By Tony Barber
According to EU officials and diplomats, the impressive performance of Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, during his six-month spell in charge of the EU last year has strengthened the hand of those who say a big name should guide the 27-nation bloc.
In one sense, the discussions are premature. The full-time president will take office next year only if the EU’s Lisbon institutional reform treaty, which creates the position, is ratified by all member-states – notably, Ireland, which is expected to hold a second referendum on the treaty between September and December.
But the sheer scale of the challenges facing the EU – from last August’s Russia-Georgia war and the global financial meltdown to the Gaza conflict and the shutdown of Russian gas deliveries to Europe – is redefining the debate.
Whereas last year Germany and other countries looked favourably on candidates such as Jean-Claude Juncker, the long-serving prime minister of Luxembourg, more policymakers now feel the EU presidency demands an occupant from a much bigger member-state.
“Sarkozy concentrated minds,” said an EU diplomat. “He made a lot of us think, ‘When the going gets rough, you’ve just got to have a big person in this job.’”
At present the EU presidency – held since January 1 by the Czech Republic – rotates every six months.
However, the balance of EU opinion is now in favour of not letting the vital task of representing the EU to big powers such as the US, China and Russia pass from one capital to another every six months.
Mr Blair’s name has often cropped up in connection with the job, but last year several factors worked against him, such as his close partnership with George W. Bush, the outgoing US president, and his perceived talent for publicly supporting the EU without being bold enough to commit the UK to closer involvement, for example, by adopting the euro.
EU diplomats said these reservations still applied but had diminished over time and with the recognition that Mr Blair was one of Europe’s few genuine stars on the world stage.
In what looked like a “rehabilitation” of Mr Blair’s standing in the Franco-German core of the EU, the former premier shared the spotlight last Thursday with Mr Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, at a Paris conference on the future of capitalism.
Mr Blair’s chances of getting the job – should it ever be created – may improve as a result of an impending re-distribution of powerful jobs among European leaders.
Under one scenario, José Manuel Barroso of Portugal would keep his job as European Commission president, and the post of EU foreign policy chief would go to Jaap de Hoop Scheffer of the Netherlands, currently Nato’s secretary-general.
The Nato job would go to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Denmark’s prime minister, and the European parliament presidency would be shared between Martin Schulz of Germany and Jerzy Buzek of Poland.
With France’s Jean-Claude Trichet as European Central Bank president and Dominique Strauss-Kahn as International Monetary Fund managing director, the case for having a Briton as EU president would on paper be strong.
Mr Blair’s spokesman said on Sunday: “The job [as EU president] doesn’t even exist so the question doesn’t arise. He’s fully focused on his work in the Middle East.”
Source: Financial Times
Blair for president?
By Gideon Rachman
Britain is a big economy, its prime minister had something to contribute - why not invite him? But, by making this gesture, I think Sarkozy did quite a lot to reintegrate Britain into the heart of the EU - and so, indirectly, made it easier for there to be a British president of the Union.
Certainly, the EU could do worse than Blair. Another leading candidate for the putative presidency is often said to be Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg.
I don't have anything particularly against Luxembourg - it's really Juncker I can't stand. For some reason the man is regarded as a great sage and wit in Brussels. But he has always struck me as insufferably smug and wedded to the worst sort of outdated and anti-democratic eurofederalism. Other than that, he's a great guy.
So I don't really care whether Blair becomes president of the EU or not. Just so long as it isn't Juncker.
Source: Gideon Rachman's blog
Extras: Euronews Video:Blair’s guiding star power for EU
Do you want Tony Blair to become EU President?
If you do not wish Tony Blair to become the President of the European Union, please read the statement bellow and sign the petition.
We, European citizens of all origins and of all political persuasions, wish to express our total opposition to the nomination of Tony Blair to the Presidency of the European Council.
The Treaty of Lisbon provides for the new post of President of the European Council, to be elected by the Council for a mandate, renewable once only, of two and a half years. Under the terms of the Treaty: "The President of the European Council shall chair it and drive forward its work" and "shall ensure the preparation and continuity of the work of the European Council". Further, "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".
The future President of the European Council will therefore have a key role in determining the policies of the European Union and its relations with the rest of the world. This first Council Presidency will also have a major symbolic weight for both citizens of the European Union and for the image of the Union in the rest of the world. In this perspective, we believe it is essential that the first president embodies the spirit and values of the European project.
For some time now, increasingly insistent news reports have made evident a wish, in some quarters, to see Tony Blair appointed the first President of the European Council. This appointment, were it to take place, would be in total contradiction with the values professed by the European project.
In violation of international law, Tony Blair committed his country to a war in Iraq that a large majority of European citizens opposed. This war has claimed hundreds of thousands of victims and displaced millions of refugees. It has been a major factor in today's profound destabilisation of the Middle East, and has weakened world security. In order to lead his country into war, Mr Blair made systematic use of fabricated evidence and the manipulation of information. His role in the Iraq war would weigh heavily on the image of the Union in the world, should he in fact be named its president.
The steps taken by Tony Blair's government, and his complicity with the Bush administration in the illegal programme of "extraordinary renditions", have led to an unprecedented decline in civil liberties. This is in contradiction with the terms of the European Convention of Human Rights, which is an integral part of the treaty.
The European Charter of Fundamental Rights formalises the founding values of the European project and is one of the pillars of the new treaty. Tony Blair fought its inclusion in the Treaty of Lisbon, and eventually managed to secure an exemption for the UK.
Rather than move European integration forward, the former British Prime Minister set a series of so-called red lines during the Lisbon negotiations, with the intent of blocking any progress in social issues and tax harmonisation, as well as common defence and foreign policy.
Furthermore, it seems unthinkable that the first President of the European Council should be the former head of a government that kept its country out of two key elements of the construction of Europe: the Schengen area of free movement of people and the Euro zone.
At a time when one of the priorities of the European institutions is to reconnect with its citizens, we believe it is essential that the President of the European Council should be a person with whom a majority of citizens can identify, rather than one rejected by a majority. Therefore, we declare our total opposition to this nomination.