So the old master is back, working his rhetorical magic at a Business for New Europe / Chatham House event in London yesterday. The full text of his speech is here. At one level I welcome Blair’s intervention in the EU ‘debate’ in the UK – he speaks with a determination and passion about European politics, and with a grasp of the realities of the globalised world that no-one else at the high levels of British politics does. I would listen to Blair rather than Ed Miliband talk about the EU any day.
But there is a problem. The moment Blair opens his mouth about the EU so everyone once again speculates about his quest for a return to frontline politics in some sort of EU role. The President of the European Council position (currently held by Herman Van Rompuy) is thought to be more likely to be Blair’s wish, not least because Van Rompuy’s term cannot be extended beyond 2014. President of the European Commission (currently Barroso), or some eventual future merger of both of these jobs, could also theoretically be possible.
Now Blair might indeed want one of these jobs. I don’t know whether he does, but it has never been ruled out by him.
But one thing is very clear to me: there are far too many people in Brussels who absolutely DO NOT want Blair in any of these jobs under any circumstances. There is no way he could ever get any of these positions.
Firstly, Blair divided the EU back in 2003 as a result of the Iraq war. He managed to have Spain and Italy on his side, and France and Germany on the other side. Although the Prime Ministers of those countries have subsequently changed, the memory remains. When it mattered, Blair sided with Bush and the USA. It would be especially unpalatable for a French President to back him as a result of this, particularly one from the left such as Hollande.
Secondly, the party politics do not work in Blair’s favour. The majority of the 27 Member State governments are controlled by the centre right. Now, while many would quibble as to whether Blair is himself anywhere on the left, his party – Labour – nevertheless sits with the centre left (PES and S&D Group) in Brussels. The dominant EPP would go for one of their own for any top position, and I cannot see any miraculous return of the left across the EU in the next 18 months.
Thirdly, Blair is British. OK, he is not so close to the current administration in Westminster, but in the 15 years I have closely been following EU politics I cannot remember a time when attitudes towards the UK were so critical in Brussels. Also don’t discount the problem that the UK is not in the Euro or in Schengen.
So, as I see it, there is absolutely no way Blair is going to get any top EU position. The idea that he could needs to be killed off, and once it is then perhaps he can play a useful role in the UK-EU ‘debate’.