Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 11:59:39 AM EST
When Tony Blair came to Paris to address a recent Union Pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) symposium, President Sarkozy's centre-right wing party, it occurred to me that the former British prime minister could be seriously gunning for the position of EU president. After all the idea of a Blair EU presidency had been vaguely dangled to him even before he moved out 10 Downing Street.
French politicians are fascinated by Tony Blair. During the last French presidential elections, no less than major contenders Royal and Sarkozy referred incessantly in their campaign stumps to Blair's British formulas that they might adopt for the economic revival of France if they won. It therefore came as no surprise to me that 'lobbying' efforts for a potential Blair presidency of the EU should start in France; France being a major or key player in the EU, Paris becomes the logical choice for Blair to start his campaign.
But there's a hitch: France's veteran politicians are opposed to the idea of a Blair presidency, and from what I've gathered, so are many people in Brussels.
Fold inserted here - Diary rescue by Migeru
From the Independent: Blair unfit to run EU, say French political veterans
Two of France's senior statesmen have launched an ABB movement - "Anyone But Blair" - in an attempt to prevent the former prime minister becoming the first president of the European Union next year.
Although much of the support for Mr Blair comes from President Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and the former prime minister Edouard Balladur, who is M. Sarkozy's mentor and friend, have declared Mr Blair to be unfit for the job.
M. Balladur, who was prime minister from 2003 to 2005, said in the newspaper Le Monde: "To be accepted by all, the president of the Union must come from a country... determined to build European independence, especially in defence and foreign affairs.
"How could Mr Blair embody this ambition when, in the disastrous episode in Iraq, he always clung zealously to the views of the US or even incited them? Mr Blair is, for sure, a remarkable person but he cannot be the symbol of a Europe which wants to exist."
Even Le Figaro, a staunch pro-Sarkozy French daily hints that there could be a serious glitch: Grandes manoeuvres à la tête de l'Europe
Jean-Claude Juncker, le premier ministre du Luxembourg, sera-t-il le futur président du Conseil européen ? Voici la question inattendue qui émerge du débat passionné entourant la possible nomination, à ce même poste, du Britannique Tony Blair. La perspective de voir accéder à la tête des Vingt-Sept le champion européen de la guerre en Irak, resté à l'écart de l'euro et de l'espace Schengen, ne fait pas recette à Bruxelles. Résultat, en l'espace de 24 heures, la cote de son principal challenger est brusquement remontée.
(Rough translation: Will Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister of Luxembourg, be the future president of the European Council? This is the unexpected question that emerged during a passionate debate on the possible nomination of Britain's Tony Blair to the post. The perspective of putting at the head of EU's 27 the European champion of the war on Iraq, one who kept out of the Euro zone and Schengen doesn't seem to hold much sway in Brussels, resulting in his main challenger's instant rise in popularity.)
the job description: In my view, the EU must be able to use his influence to promote European interests on the international stage, to demonstrate as strongly as possible that Europe matters, and to maximise the return for Europe. The post needs someone of international stature, i.e., large. Admittedly, Today Blair seems to fit the bill; he is very well perceived by many world leaders especially the US who will be the most important ally for Europe.
The other ex-heads of state who one might say have equivalent stature are: Schroder but he has has sold himself to GAZPROM and Merkel will still be chancellor, Chirac is too old and Sarkozy is still President of France, the Italians are lost in internal squabbles and Solana (Spain) has had 10 years already. No other country can produce someone who will carry the flag realistically. (It is not realistic to think that the world will believe in someone from Luxembourg at this level.)
Secondly, the president must also use his influence to build consensus between European Union member states. From this perspective Blair splits the Member States in two. There are many who fully approve of the UK stance of minimising federalism and maximising nationalism, others have a different perspective. There are the issues of the Euro and Schengen but then the UK is not alone in taking a stance outside these two policies and so neither can fully bar him from the office.
In this consensus building area, almost any Member State has equal capability and respect and one could see someone from Luxembourg being completely acceptable although there is no doubt Blair has the ability to charm and build consensus. In sum, he is a clever strategist, an excellent tactician and a charming political maverick. Given those personal (and political) attributes and his own record of political longevity in the UK, he definitely could be a frontrunner for the EU presidential post.
On paper, Blair is an excellent candidate BUT let's face it, he is also a very contentious candidate. The position of the UK and the performance of Blair vis-a-vis Europe while he was PM, couple that with his disastrous Iraq legacy and his Bush poodle/lap dog image, I'm afraid will not help his candidature. He has a credibility problem as his loyalty to Europe is seen by most ordinary citizens in the EU to be flawed.
In my view, while the EU presidental post is hugely 'ceremonial' in that the President of Europe will have no great powers as such, he (or she?) will wield much influence and will shoulder great responsibilities, foremost among them that of being a unifier.
The Blair conundrum should thus be simplified and translated as "Is Tony Blair fit to run the EU?"... On balance, my answer is "NO!"