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Wednesday, March 24, 1999 Published at 15:04 GMT

World: Europe

Prodi for top Euro job

Commission resignation threw the EU into crisis

European leaders meeting in Berlin have nominated the former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi as the new president of the European Commission.

EU in crisis
The entire 20-member commission and its president, Jacques Santer, resigned last week after a damning report into fraud and corruption in the institution.

Mr Prodi, 59, had emerged as the clear favourite for the top job, with both UK and German backing.

Caroline Wyatt in Berlin: "He knows reforming Europe will be no easy job"
The best-known achievement of the leader centre-left Olive Tree coalition is getting Italy accepted as a member of the new single European currency, the euro.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said the EU leaders gathered in Berlin for a two-day summit had made "a forward looking decision".

[ image: Mr Prodi described his nomination as
Mr Prodi described his nomination as "a great demonstration of trust for Italy"
He said that Mr Prodi was someone of "unquestioned personal integrity" and "exceptional economic knowledge and experience".

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair also welcomed the decision and characterised Mr Prodi as an "economic and political reformer".

Mr Prodi's nomination has to be approved by the European Parliament, which it will now have time to do before it breaks up in May for June elections

Member state governments would then, in co-operation with the new president, put forward their nominations for the other 19 commissioner posts which would be approved by the new assembly.

Kosovo tops agenda

The EU leaders begun their crisis summit by assessing the situation in Kosovo.

BBC News' Richard Ross: Agenda 2000 aid schemes are at risk
The meeting of the 15 heads of government was scheduled to address major spending plans for the EU into the next century, but the resignation of the European Commission last week and the events in the Balkans have complicated the agenda.

They are holding crisis talks on Kosovo over lunch and are expected to issue a declaration of support for Nato's position.

Prime Minister Blair is among the most determined to see a firm response to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

"With any military action there are risks," Mr Blair said in Berlin. "But the alternative - which is to allow him to carry on the repression, carry on killing people, carrying on displacing the civilian population - is entirely unacceptable."

Tough budget talks

The meeting is due to discuss key issues including the EU's £60bn annual budget and the reform of agriculture and regional subsidies.

Chancellor Schröder, whose country currently holds the rotating six-month presidency of the EU, has insisted that these Agenda 2000 issues - the initiative aimed at securing the financial future of the EU - must be at the top of the agenda for Berlin.

Many of the issues are already agreed, or close to agreement, and Mr Schröder has expressed his confidence that they can be finalised in Berlin.

A deal on the controversial Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) - which could eventually see an end to price support for farmers - was recently hammered out between ministers and is intended to be finalised at the summit.

However there could still be a row between Britain and Germany, on the one hand, and France and smaller countries, on the other, over subsidies to their farmers.

British rebate

Germany is also eager to finalise details of the EU's budget into the next century which could see spending frozen at around the current level until 2006.

Part of the package is the controversial £2bn British rebate which German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer recently signalled could be preserved.

The UK prime minister has ruled out any change to the rebate and, without agreement from the other 14 nations, the issue could have escalated into a full-scale row.

But the commission crisis has piled pressure on the leaders to get their act together and hammer out sensible agreements in all these areas.

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