Birmingham could set a trend among major British cities if it decided to be run by a directly elected mayor, a Government Minister predicted last night.

Phil Woolas, the Local Government Minister, said: "Birmingham is interesting in important ways because it is by far the largest local authority in the country.

"If Birmingham did go for an elected mayor I think Manchester and Leeds would follow pretty quickly."

Mr Woolas made it clear that he was not expressing a personal opinion about the merits of mayors.

However, he added: "We have said that the governance arrangements for Birmingham should be subject to consultation and that is what will happen."

He was speaking at a major European Union conference at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham.

The event, entitled Global going local ? why Europe must think local for jobs and growth, brought together senior figures from the EU to highlight a campaign for local and regional government to be given more say in economic planning by national governments.

The Minister's remarks will add further fuel to the mayoral debate, which will figure in an important Government-led consultation exercise in Birmingham later this month.

The gathering of business leaders, council representatives and young people will take part in what the Government is describing as a "no holds barred" summit on how the city is run.

The possibility of an elected mayor running Birmingham City Council will be on the agenda.

Mr Woolas said the Government was prepared to hand more control to Birmingham and the West Midlands region through Local Area Agreements, which allow councils and other public bodies to have much more say about how money is spent on regeneration projects.

Civil servants in the West Midlands would in future be working for Birmingham and the region rather than for the Government, he said.

Mr Woolas added: "The strings are being taken off in a big way."

However, yesterday's conference raised serious concerns that the enlargement of the EU could mean less European funding for Birmingham and the West Midlands.

The region received more than #500 million in economic and social development aid between 2000 and 2006, but the accession into the EU of poorer eastern European countries could reduce help for "wealthier" regions like the West Midlands.

A meeting of the European Committee of the Regions in Birmingham yesterday called for a long term agreement on structural aid in order to give local authorities a chance to plan for economic regeneration.

Member countries are split over the issue but there are hopes of agreement within the next few months, during the UK's presidency of the EU.

Mr Woolas said all countries recognised the need urgently to make a decision.

He added: "We will do our best to take forward the budget negotiations in the context of a wider debate about how Europe responds to the challenges of globalisation.

"Our objective is to achieve an EU budget that is effective and fair."

EU regional policy commissioner Danuta Hbner was given a tour of regeneration projects in Birmingham and Coventry financed through European aid.

Mrs Hbner said: "My general impression in Birmingham was that it was great to see how money is being spent on attracting the industries of the future. It was really impressive to see the co-operation between local authorities and the private sector."