BRUSSELS - Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy was on course on Thursday to become the European Union's president and Briton Catherine Ashton to become its foreign affairs chief, EU officials said.

The chances of agreement on the appointments at an EU summit grew after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown decided to stop trying to secure the presidency for former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and backed Ashton as foreign affairs high representative.

Britain's demands for Blair to become president of the Council of EU leaders had stood in the way of the 27 member states reaching a consensus on the two jobs, intended to help strengthen the EU on the world stage.

As it became clear that the chances of a Blair presidency, for a number of good reasons, were declining, the prime minister made the decisive intervention in this meeting (to stop backing Blair), a spokesman for Brown told reporters.

EU diplomats confirmed the bloc's Swedish presidency, which has been leading consultations on the two appointments, had presented the names of the low-key Van Rompuy and Ashton, the EU's trade commissioner.

There is a political agreement. We have a consensus, a senior EU diplomat said.

The two appointments are intended to bolster the EU's standing and match the rise of emerging powers such as China following the global economic crisis.

(Writing by Timothy Heritage, editing by Dale Hudson)