By Hilary White

BRUSSELS, November 19, 2009 ( – With hopes fading for Tony Blair taking the top European job, the Times reports that UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown will make a last-ditch appeal for his former party leader in Brussels this afternoon when he attends a meeting of the Party of European Socialists.

But a German diplomat has dropped the biggest hint so far that the leaders will choose the little known Belgian Prime Minister, Herman Van Rompuy, as the first President of the European Union.

Reinhard Bettzuege, revealed today to the Belgian newspaper, De Morgen, that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is behind Van Rompuy.

Under the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty, finally ratified by all member states early this month, the office of President is chosen in secret negotiations among the leaders. The new constitution of the EU does not allow for any public input into the process.

In a deal known to have been worked out among leaders split into two political camps, the socialist government leaders will choose the EU's new “High Representative” or foreign minister and the group of centre-right countries, led by France and Germany, would nominate the president.

Not all EU politicians are comfortable with the opacity of the selection process. Brussels Journal reports that Vaira Vike-Freiberga, a Latvian candidate for the presidency said the search is being conducted with Soviet-style secrecy and contempt for the public. The EU, she says, should “stop working like the former Soviet Union … in darkness and behind closed doors”.

The Daily Telegraph quotes an unnamed Eastern European official complaining, “Trying to work out who is going to be President of the EU Council is not dissimilar to decoding who was in or out in the Kremlin in the 1970s.

“It seems strange to many of us that 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall we have to dust off our Kremlinology skills here in Brussels.”

Van Rompuy has kept a low profile in international politics, but is known to oppose the inclusion of Turkey into the EU on the grounds that the country does not share Europe's Christian philosophical and political heritage.

“An expansion of the EU to include Turkey cannot be considered as just another expansion as in the past. The universal values which are in force in Europe, and which are also fundamental values of Christianity, will lose vigour with the entry of a large Islamic country such as Turkey,” he said in 2004.

Update to report: The BBC reported later Thursday that Van Rompuy has been chosen as the president and the new foreign affairs chief is EU Trade Commissioner, Baroness Catherine Ashton from the UK.

Read related coverage:

Czech Republic Leader Signs Lisbon – No More Barriers to New European Superstate  

Blair's Chances as Euro President Recede as Lisbon Treaty Signed