Following on from my post about Bildt and Fischer, today is the time to look at two other strong candidates for top jobs in the EU, this time both of them Brits – Chris Patten and Tony Blair. I’m prompted to write this post after the FT carried a story that Patten would be “very positive” about the idea of taking the EU Foreign Minister position later this year.
Firstly, Patten. My first reaction was ‘hell, that’s going to really annoy David Cameron’, and secondly ‘isn’t he too old’.
On the first point, Patten, a former Chairman of the Conservative Party, has been causing a few problems for Cameron and the party leadership lately. He was opposed to the idea of the Tories leaving the EPP-ED group in the Parliament, prompting the young turks in the Tory Party to have a go at him. William Hague has already stated he found Patten’s statement “unwise”. So where is all of this coming from? Surely all of this bears the hallmarks of Gordon Brown and scheming in Whitehall; what better way to hammer home the Tories out of the European mainstream message than appointing one of their own to a top EU position, contrary to Cameron’s wishes?
Secondly, does Patten really have the stomach for this? When he stepped down as a European Commissioner in 2004, then aged 60, these were the lines in the BBC story:
The European commissioner, who lost his seat as MP for Bath in 1992, said he planned to retire, taking up writing, broadcasting and do some “serious gardening”.
“This is the last public service job I will do. When I finish it, I will be 60 and I would like to enjoy my sixties as much as I can,” he said.
There’s also an interesting interview with Patten given at the time in the New York Times. Is he the right person to be haring around the world for the next five years?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt he could do the job, and I also have a lot of time and respect for Patten. But somehow I cannot see all of the pieces of the jigsaw falling into place to make this happen.
The second strong candidate for a top EU position, Tony Blair, this time rumoured to want the position as President of the European Council, a job that would be created if the Treaty of Lisbon is ratified. Here the case is much more clear-cut than for Patten. There’s no way politically in the UK that Brown could not be seen to be backing Blair for this job (despite all the bad blood between the two in the past). The problems however are elsewhere. Blair is strong, charismatic, outspoken, and followed the USA to war in Iraq contrary to the wishes of France and Germany. OK, that was in 2003, and Blair still has decent working relationships with some member states, but if Bildt, Fischer or Patten are divisive figures then multiply it by 10 for Blair. CEP Blog has a breakdown on how the voting could work. Yet even after the horrors of the Czech Presidency of the EU and some sort of longing for leadership and coherency in the Justus Lipsius building I cannot see how a consensus for Blair could be achieved.
So I reckon Patten, Blair, Bildt and Fischer are all strong non-starters.
[UPDATE – 6.8.09]
A strong, personal case for Patten is made at Crooked Timber.