EU Finally Concurs on New Leader

BRUSSELS -- European Union leaders, hoping to close the book on three weeks of infighting, agreed Friday to appoint Luxembourg Prime Minister Jacques Santer as their new chief executive.

"He has what it takes to be a strong president," German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, current holder of the EU's rotating leadership, said of Santer.

Kohl told reporters after the EU summit there had been difficulty after "mistakes" were made at the late June summit in Greece where Britain vetoed the agreed candidate of the other 11 members. Kohl said the decision on Santer had been made in only two weeks "and this isn't bad for an institution that is accused of not being dynamic."

Santer said repeatedly: "Judge me by my acts ... and when I'm able to do something."

He spoke fluently in English, German and French as he sought to rebuff allegations that he was a lightweight from the EU's smallest member state.

Kohl, too, stressed that theme. "We are convinced that Jacques Santer is the right man at the right time" to guide the EU toward the turn of the century when the Union is to have a single currency and planning to let in some East European nations.

Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene bowed out of the race with a blast at the veto system -- all EU major decisions must be unanimous -- that knocked his candidacy down.

Dehaene told the summit meeting he had written Wednesday to Kohl, confirming that he was no longer available and saying it was an easy decision because Santer shares his views on European integration.

Dehaene told his European colleagues that the EU must abandon its veto system.

"I myself am of the opinion that we will have to draw our lessons" from the turmoil that Britain caused in late June by vetoing his candidacy, he said.

"After all, the EU cannot function on the basis of vetos," the Belgian said, according to the text of the speech he gave behind closed doors.

Santer succeeds Jacques Delors of France, who will step down in January after 10 years.

In recent days, Santer, 57, emerged as the only acceptable replacement capping a frantic leadership search that began when Britain vetoed Dehaene as Delors' successor.

At a June 24-25 summit on the Greek island of Corfu, British Prime Minister John Major rejected Dehaene although he was backed by the other EU nations. Major objected to Dehaene's ardent pro-European integration and lukewarm free-trade views.

Major called Santer "an excellent candidate," who would be a "reconciler and a healer." But some objected to the way the decision was made. "It's undemocratic wheeling and dealing behind closed doors" by the government leaders, said Pauline Green, the Socialist faction leader.