Tony Blair and European Council Presidency

Europe and the United Kingdom has a relationship much like with the opposition in any democratic parliament; we cannot live without them, nor can we really live with them.

But in spite of this, the UK may well have produced the first permanent president for the European Council. Certainly Tony Blair is leading the race hands down, even if other representatives of European council are not entirely happy. He has strong support at home, not least from Lady Kinnock who declared that “he is our man”.

Hadleigh Roberts pointed out that “[i]t is undeniable that Tony Blair is a remarkable man with great qualities, including flexibility, rapidity and a feeling for how to communicate” but noted that “the role of EU president could conflict with the portfolio of advisory roles Blair seems keen to take up”.

If there is any concern about Blair’s ability to do the job owing to his busy schedule, these myths should be uncovered. The role of president of the European council is to liaise with the existing representatives of each council members, this is composed of chancellors, presidents or prime ministers of each country with EU membership. As head of this council Blair will reiterate agenda’s decided by this board and promote European integration. And for his efforts be paid £200,000 a year. It would hardly be taxing to juggle a position teaching faith to undergraduates in an American university on the side – at worst it would encourage sniggering at the back of his class wondering whether Blair’s loyalties lie with Anglo-Americanism rather than Anglo-Europeanism (you can decide who is doing the sniggering) and whether these two positions are in conflict.

But perhaps this sniggering would be unfounded? After all, hasn’t the Obama presidency shifted the plates on European-American relations?

As Roberts points out ‘[i]n his article, Balladur argued against Blair [for president], claiming that he fails to meet two criteria; “First, to come from a country that is completely in step with the EU’s forward march and that participates in all its different forms of co-operation; and, secondly, to be determined to build the independence of Europe, notably in the diplomatic and military fields.”’ His second point reminds us of that special Anglo-American relationship that will continue to tar his chances to win over Europe. The scorn with which European leaders have bestowed upon Blair is much to do with his allegiance to American foreign policy, and for many people the Blair legacy will never free itself of the shackles of Iraq invasion, and the WMD’s that never were, not to mention the unwinnable disaster in Afghanistan.

Maybe Blair’s reputation at home might be the thorn in the side of the presidency opportunity. But Sarkozy may have a point when he says of Blair he is ‘the most European of all Britons’. Blair in a sense has transgressed the limitations that usually come with being ex-prime minister, he is much more than that now given the extent to which he has networked after that period, his identity is rather beyond British politician, (in spite of some views) he is a world politician. If anything, would not this presidential position be a step down for him?

Given the sad state of affairs that the Tories in Europe find themselves in, to even suggest that they might have some political clout over Blair’s possible appointment is laughable. The newly composed group of anti-federalists in Europe, which the Conservatives abandoned the European Peoples Party (EPP) to join – despite the influence of the latter grouping composed of top European conservatives – is now to be led by Polish MEP Michal Kaminski of the Law and Justice Party. William Hague making his position clear on the new European friends of his party, dismissed “out-of-date and ill-informed” criticisms that Poland’s Law and Justice party was homophobic. He went on to say “The Law and Justice party is a party committed to be against discrimination, for equality under the law.”

Hague was talking about the same party that, in the run-up to 2005 elections, “accused gay and lesbian couples “of being a cultural and even biological threat to the Polish nation, lowering the birth-rate, and imperiling (sic) what ultra-conservatives lovingly call “natural law marriage and family.”

On the face of it, not many European leaders have come out in his support, as the Guardian points out;

José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Spanish PM who takes over the EU presidency after Reinfeldt in January, is … an opponent. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany is not believed to be keen. France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, an early fan of Blair for the role, might calculate that it would be better to side with German and Spanish leaders than support the British.

And the opposition in the UK definitely do not want him there, but nobody is putting forward any alternatives, and the Tories are willingly pushing themselves further and further into the inertia of non-attached Euro-cranks and fascists. Perhaps the saving grace for Blair is that the job is little less than what he already does (networking, the overseeing of world policy, communicability). A definition of the position is charismatic individual with plenty of contacts, and to this Blair fits the bill perfectly, so who are we to argue.

This entry is in response to Hadleigh Robert’s article vive monsieur blair encore une fois as part of the Bloggers Circle experiment


2 Responses to Tony Blair and European Council Presidency

  1. euandus2 says:

    The Economist recently referred to the candidacy of the Belgian prime minister as “comical” while Tony Blair’s would be quite good for the EU standing next to the US. While Blair is a good choice as a figure head, the Belgian prime minister is perhaps superior in negotiating common positions (which is necessary in divided Belgium). I have just posted on what might be behind the British position here.

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