Tony Blair - CC / Flickr
Tony Blair - CC / Flickr

So here we go again. The EU has a multitude of problems on its hands: Russia turning off the gas, the Gaza conflict brewing, and no-one really knowing what to do about the economic downturn, least of all the Commission. The Czech Presidency has already made a few gaffes, and there are sure to be a few more from Klaus and co before the end of their 6 months in the chair.

So what does Europe need? A statesman apparently… Today’s FT (more at Euractiv) is reporting that the idea of having Tony Blair as President of the European Council is doing the rounds once more, back on the agenda one year after Sarkozy originally backed the idea. It seems that Sarko’s clout in the French Presidency has made a few people sit up and think…

But hold on a minute. Why would this idea be any better now than it was 12 months ago? OK, we know what can be done if the EU has some energetic leadership, but a few other factors have changed decisively against Blair. Firstly Blair does not seem to have had much of an impact as Middle East Envoy – would he be a sane face for the EU in that issue? Secondly, two of the major issues facing the EU – economic matters and gas supplies – are a mixture of market matters and foreign policy. Would Blair grandstanding be any good to fix those things? Seems to me that the case for one tough president is stronger than ever, rather than a statesman in the European Council and a weak flaccid lump in the Commission.

And then there’s also the small matter of the referendum in Ireland on the Treaty of Lisbon… If Blair is rumoured once more to want the top job is that going to make it any more or less likely that the Irish are going to vote Yes?

6 Comments

  1. Blair will be thought of kindly in Ireland for the peace process, but even in Ireland his reputation has been badly damaged by the Iraq war. Blair may have some merit as a candidate, and perhaps he’s more popular in eastern Europe than he is in the west, but I would say that the Presidency of the Council is not an issue in Ireland, and is unlikely to become one.

  2. I think having Blair as the strong candidate would strengthen Ireland’s likelihood to vote “yes” in a new referendum. People there KNOW how much his contribution brought peace to the decades long, no … centuries long problems there.

    And HE was the one (the one the British press called the ‘dictator’), who suggested that an all-Ireland vote be held – north & south on the draft agreement, when many parties were getting flakey. The voters voted and came down on Blair’s approach. That’s what swung it.

    Blair’s instincts are good, and we Europeans need someone like him – well, no actually HIM – to balance America alongside other newer powers like China & India. And the balance might be a difficult one in future years.

    And if he helps resolve the other centuries’ old conflicts in the Middle East, well, what more is there to say.

    If you think he has not been busy in the Gaza/Israel conflict right now you are missing a trick. He has been deeply involved at ALL levels. But it’s diplomacy, not megaphone politics.

    He has been on British broadcasting outlets a lot in recent days, even though many British naysayers like to pretend he’s invisible.

    And have you noticed anyone – apart, perhaps from Sarkozy – making any noticeable impact in Gaza? The rest of Europe? Brown? Miliband?

    I’m prejudiced, I know, but if we don’t have Blair as EU President, we could be shooting ourselves in the foot.

    There are too many wishy-washy politicians around right now that we know nothing about, or whose policies are indecisive or pulled in all directions.

    Of course, there might be another strong candidate in the offing:

    http://keeptonyblairforpm.wordpress.com/2008/11/19/blair-sarkozy-conference-euroconomics/

  3. Hmm, not sure about Barroso. Although he is a desaster as Commission President he might just be the right compromise candidate for the “President” position. At the same time there would be the chance to have a powerful Commission President again (which is badly needed)!

    I wonder why Blair keeps coming back as a candidate! He lost all his credibility in office (Iraq, EU politics etc.), even as a Middle East envoy he terribly failed, nobody heard of him in the last months and now a war broke out in the region… not very convincing!

    I still think the position of a “president” is rather unnecessary because the rotating council presidency remains in place and the real power of the position seems to depend on the personal attributes of the candidate which ultimately will have an impact on the roles played by the Commission president and the High Rep. Institutional stability is something else!

  4. Valery

    Well, he’s better than Barroso…

  5. You’ve got a very good point on his record as Middle East Envoy (I haven’t heard anything about it since he got the job).

    I doubt it would make any difference in Ireland. Blair carries the taint of Iraq; Junker, if anyone has heard of him in Ireland, would carry the taint of being a back-room dealer in the best tradition of EU opaqueness; and Bertie Ahren (because despite our problems with him, we still like to think he somehow has a chance) is tainted by corruption allegations.

    The debate in Ireland is focused on the Commission issue at the moment (though there’s not much debate right now), but you never know, that might change since the Yes side’s position on this will be a lot stronger now, so that focus may shift…

  6. Jon,

    If Tony Blair was touted as Commission President, it would be something. He is one of the few potential candidates known globally and it could turn the PES into a real contender for first place in the European elections in June 2009.

    Naturally, Blair is a controversial figure, but how much would that hurt considering the unknown contenders for the top spot? (As far as I know, nobody has been launched officially.)

    My uneducated guess would be that Blair would have less problems and more success with voters than with the PES, probably too divided to field any credible candidate.

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