Fri Sep 25th, 2009 at 09:40:32 AM EST
Europe has to decide whether to think big or behave small. Big means Blair.
The quote is from Denis MacShane, but it's in an Independent article by Donald McIntyre that looks like the beginning of a serious announcement of Tony Blair's candidature for the post (to be created if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified) of President of the European Council.
Euro star: Could Tony Blair become the first EU president? - Europe, World - The Independent
an Irish vote in favour of Lisbon will be enough to trigger a wave of speculation on who will emerge in what could be the role of "Mr Europe" over the next five years. And without even uttering a word to say he wants the job, Mr Blair is already being discussed in Brussels and across the capitals of the 27 member states as the biggest figure among the potential candidates. If all goes to plan, a decision could be taken at next month's EU summit.
"Mr Europe", of course, gives the game away from the start. The essential argument for promoting Blair's candidature is, and can only be (because Blair wouldn't be interested otherwise), that the job description is "EU President" or "Mr Europe" or the man Henry Kissinger is supposed to be trying to call, and not the more limited definition of Article 9B (6) of the Lisbon Treaty:
6. The President of the European Council:
(a) shall chair it and drive forward its work;
(b) shall ensure the preparation and continuity of the work of the European Council in cooperation with the President of the Commission, and on the basis of the work of the General Affairs Council;
(c) shall endeavour to facilitate cohesion and consensus within the European Council;
(d) shall present a report to the European Parliament after each of the meetings of the European Council.
The President of the European Council shall, at his level and in that capacity, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign
Affairs and Security Policy.
The post is so big, the argument goes, that only Blair can fill it. Never mind that "without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative" - these will be new positions, and the first incumbents will shape them for a generation to come. And that's why Blair is the man for the presidential job: he will shape the function into Big™ , high visibility, high profile, high communication. So Blair is big enough for a job he will shape into something big enough for him. Circular argument? No problem.
The article begins with an attempt to win back lost ground. Blair, it has been suggested, is not getting the support he might among EU leaders because of his inexistence in the job of Quartet Envoy to the Middle East. Donald McIntyre (Jerusalem correspondent but former Chief Political Commentator of the Independent
) obviously spent some time with Blair "on the job" working with West Bank Palestinians on checkpoint problems. The first half of the article paints a glowing portrait of Blair's tireless - but oh so modest - efforts :
Persistently upbeat...he does not betray the slightest frustration. He works pretty hard here on his monthly one-week trips, energetically pressing a detailed if unglamorous shopping list of improvements...
the inevitably slow progress is hardly surprising, given that a powerful new US President has just failed to persuade Israel to freeze settlement construction for a year.
OK, we get the picture. Blair has been toiling away quietly like the jolly nice chap he is, and the fact that he has done nothing visible in two and a half years is only to be expected in the circumstances, see Obama. Next access of shyness on the part of the jolly nice chap:
Yet though he would never give the slightest hint of it, you cannot help wondering if just occasionally he would like to be free of the limits on a role whose mandate is inevitably narrowed by the fact that the US is going to be the only external agent that can force through the real political progress he knows is needed. Especially since, just possibly, a job with a rather wider remit could soon be in sight.
Here we go. The UK is backing Blair's candidature, says McIntyre, but the Sarko-Merkel axis is vital. And lo and behold!
Charles Grant, the well-informed director of the Centre for European Reform [CER], Britain's leading EU think-tank, says he believes both Merkel and Sarkozy are now on board for a Blair presidency – which he therefore thinks is "looking quite plausible" at present.
Most commentary so far seems to agree that neither Merkel nor Sarkozy want Blair, but we all know it's a sine qua non for victory that a candidate look like a winner. So let's say he looks like one. Here is a "well-informed" person who, we are told, deduces (therefore) from his personal belief (believes both Merkel and Sarkozy are now on board) that it's "quite plausible" Blair will be President of the European Council. This is very convincing. All the more so when one considers that the Centre for European Reform is an Atlanticist, neo-liberal, New Labour set-up that was once called (in the same newspaper) "Tony Blair's private think tank".
The article does go into consideration of the opposition to Blair, especially on the left, with the fear that he might fall between two stools, identified as a leftie by the right and a rightie by the left (the possibility that he might deserve that fate is not discussed). Doubts about Blair's pro-European image are brought up too. Someone (Charles Grant?) seems to have fed the journalist with an intricate counter-argument on this:
But in any case enthusiasts for a Blair candidacy point out that the worry that Blair is not sufficiently European for the job, is actually perverse....
...to choose a leader who as a Prime Minister failed to take his country into the eurozone and chose to break with "old Europe" over his bitterly controversial support for the US military invasion of Iraq may actually be the most "European" thing to do....
...the return to office of a British Conservative government whose hostility to pooling even those elements of national sovereignty which give the EU's members – including Britain – a greater global influence on issues from climate change to world trade, could pose real problems. In that event, the argument goes, what better counterweight than having at the helm of the EU the one British figure capable when necessary, by influencing British public opinion in a contrary direction? ...
if the Europeans want to avoid the big knock-down destructive fights with its second-biggest net contributor that characterised the Thatcher years, then having Blair in the most powerful EU job may be an insurance policy against it happening.
It's no insurance at all, in fact: one could even say that the mere fact of Blair being in Brussels would just raise the heat of the conflict. But isn't it a clever argument? (If you think this is an instance of insular Brit-centricity, you clearly misunderstand today's global world in which... Oh, never mind. Europe needs a British boss to deal with the problems Britain is going to cause. Britain is just so relevant, you know...)
The main argument, however, is fairly simple.
Yet these complaints may miss a crucial point. For whether the member states like it or not this is – assuming the Treaty is approved – a defining moment for the EU. The formal powers of the job remain vague. But what they are will depend very much on who has it, and particularly who has it first, since that may define its remit for a generation or more. One possibility is that the new president is not much more than a chairman of the European Council, a relatively-faceless bureaucrat who remains constantly overshadowed by the heads of the main member states. But the idea behind it was to give the EU a new cohesion as a bloc, to help it punch at or above its weight, and provide – finally – an answer to Henry Kissinger's famous question: "Who do I call if I want to talk to Europe?" Yet that role can only be established if the new president has enough stature to fill it.
This entirely depends on pro-Blair definitions: if that was "the idea behind it", whose idea was it? Why doesn't everyone agree? Why doesn't the treaty text define the post in that way? Above all, why must we define ourselves according to an American imperialist sneer that Atlanticists never fail to repeat? The post of President of the European Council has nothing to do with answering Henry freaking Kissinger's calls. Nothing. But it goes on:
The CER's Charles Grant confesses to "mixed feelings" about Blair's potential candidacy. On the one hand he worries about his deep unpopularity among elements of the European centre left , because of the Iraq war. "The fact that some people actually regard him as evil could make him less effective in the job," he says. On the other he has no difficulty in spelling out the case for Mr Blair. "I have spent time in Russia, China and India recently and people there say: 'If you want us to engage with the EU, choose someone we've heard of, don't pick Jean-Claude Juncker [Prime Minister] of Luxembourg.'" And secondly, he's a damned good communicator, which is hugely important for an organisation as complex as the EU."
The case for Mr Blair is, then, that Russia, China, and India do not engage with the EU and would do so even less, if that were possible, if the President of the European Council were a person they've never heard of, like someone they then go on to name. Fortunately, Blair is a "damned good communicator" and will perhaps be able to get us to understand what his little pal Grant is trying to get us to swallow.
And so on to more of the same (from McIntyre, insofar as one can separate the strands of what is quoted from what has been "suggested"):
The danger of the coming argument on his eligibility for the job is that it may avoid the biggest question of all, which may not be posed again for a generation: what sort of Europe does Europe want?
Ah, the generational decision, to which Denis MacShane supplies us with the "vision and communication thing" shared by Churchill, De Gaulle, and Jacques Delors. And Tony Blair.