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Candidates For EU President, Foreign Minister

(Reuters) -- The president of the Council of EU leaders will be picked for a renewable 2 1/2-year term, strengthening the current system of a six-month presidency that each state holds in turn. He or she will work closely with the high representative for foreign affairs.

As part of the EU's efforts to maintain a political balance, if the president's job goes to a center-right candidate, the high representative post is likely to go a center-left leader. If the president is from the center-left, the foreign policy chief would probably be from the center-right.

Below is a list of possible presidential contenders discussed by diplomats and analysts in Brussels:

Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy

Van Rompuy, 62, has emerged as the strongest center-right candidate. Although he has been prime minister for less than a year, after coming to power following a banking crisis, he has proved a steady hand running a difficult coalition.

He is a low-profile leader whose consensus-building skills could suit German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy better than an established world statesman such as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende

Center-right Balkenende, 53, has also emerged as a potential compromise candidate. He has spent the past few years boosting the role of the Netherlands, a founding EU member, on the world stage, recently negotiating invitations to G8 and G20 summits.

However, he was in power when Dutch voters rejected the draft EU constitution in 2005 and this could work against him, as could his support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker

Juncker, a 54-year-old center-right leader, was an architect of the EU's 1993 Maastricht Treaty which led to the creation of the euro currency, and has acted as a mediator between bigger countries on EU issues. He is now chairman of the group of finance ministers whose countries use the euro.

He says he would listen favorably to calls to serve as president, but France would be likely to oppose him. He said in a newspaper interview he did not believe he had much chance of getting the job.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair

Blair's chances receded after he failed to win the backing of European socialists and Sarkozy indicated that he would back another candidate, without saying whom. Despite that, Blair remains a name on many people's lips.

The 55-year-old had been the front-runner but many countries want a less high-profile candidate who is better able to bring consensus. His candidacy has been hampered by his strong advocacy for the war in Iraq. He also faces opposition because Britain is not one of the 16 countries that use the euro and is not in the Schengen area of visa-free travel.

Former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga

Called "the Iron Lady of the east" by some politicians, Vike-Freiberga, 71, steered her former Soviet republic into NATO and the EU as president for two terms between 1999 and 2007.

She returned to Latvia from Canada after an international academic career as a psychology professor. She has no party affiliation, considers herself a centrist and backed the U.S.-led war on Iraq. Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis says Latvia's economic woes should not count against her.

She was quoted as saying in a newspaper that the process of filling the post is prejudiced against women.

Former Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel

Schuessel, 64, has been mentioned as a possible center-right contender. A Christian Democrat, he was chancellor from early 2000 until 2007 and he has good ties with Merkel.

France is still critical of Schuessel for his decision to form a coalition government with far-right anti-immigration populist Joerg Haider in 2000, which prompted other EU states to suspend cooperation with the government.

Former Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Tapio Lipponen

Lipponen could offer a compromise between bigger and smaller member states. A former journalist, he introduced the concept of a European constitution in a speech in 2000, and was prime minister from 1995 to 2003. He was also chairman of the Finnish Social Democratic Party. Lipponen, 68, has said the new president's main role would be internal, building consensus.

Candidates For EU Foreign Minister

The high representative for foreign affairs and security policy will have enhanced powers under the bloc's Lisbon reform treaty and head an external-action service designed to give the EU more influence on the world stage.

He or she will answer to EU governments but will also be a vice president of the executive European Commission and manage its large external aid budget.

Below are some leaders who could be candidates:

Former Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema

D'Alema, 60, is a member of Italy's main opposition party, the center-left Democratic Party, but has the backing of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. A spokesman for the Socialist and Democrat group in the European Parliament said he had the group's backing now that Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband has all but ruled himself out.

But diplomats say D'Alema's candidacy faces opposition from member states that were once in the Soviet bloc because of his communist past. He joined the Italian Communist Party in 1968, became a member of its Central Committee in 1979 and served as editor of the communist newspaper "L'Unita" in the 1980s.

Former Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato

If D'Alema's communist past proves a hindrance, Amato could emerge as a compromise candidate from the Italian center-left. Amato, 71, has a long record in Italian politics, serving twice as prime minister and foreign minister, and once as interior minister.

He is seen as a consummate dealmaker and has been at the heart of EU affairs, serving as vice president of the Convention on the Future of Europe, the group that drafted a European constitution that gave way to the Lisbon Treaty. He is sharp and energetic but his age may count against him.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband

While Miliband has distanced himself from the post, saying he is committed to politics in Britain, diplomats say there is a strong consensus around the 44-year-old. There remains a chance that last-minute maneuverings will see him given the job.

Miliband, a member of the center-left Labour Party, has backed former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for the new post of EU president, and could not be foreign-policy chief if Blair's candidacy were successful. He is seen as a potential future leader of Britain's Labour Party.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt

The 60-year-old, center-right former prime minister has decades of experience in diplomacy. Some countries, however, oppose another Scandinavian having a top job because former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen is NATO chief.

Bildt is also seen by some countries as too outspoken, especially because of his tough stance towards Russia and strong support for Turkey's EU membership bid.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn

The 47-year-old Finnish liberal has won admirers for his calm diplomacy with EU aspirants such as Turkey and the countries of the western Balkans. Political analysts say Rehn's relative youth could be to his advantage and his lack of political-party experience could play for or against him. Like Bildt, Rehn's Nordic origins could be a negative factor.

Rehn said recently he would like a meaningful foreign-policy job or economic portfolio in the next European Commission, the EU executive.

European Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton

Ashton, 53, has little foreign-affairs experience, but she has proved adept at picking up the busy EU trade portfolio, which she took on after former commissioner Peter Mandelson returned to British politics.

A straight-talking member of Britain's Labour Party, Ashton's candidacy may get support from EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who has said that he would like to see a woman in one of the top new jobs.

Former Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik

A 53-year-old conservative, Plassnik is a prominent pro-EU voice in Austria where many people are Euroskeptics. She quit as foreign minister in December 2008 when a coalition led by Social Democrats took office, ostensibly in protest at its refusal to rule out a referendum on an EU constitution.