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’.
Putting Tony Blair into a top EU job would be a master move. It would make the EU seem more palpable to the British, finally somebody with the right accent telling them what to do!, so it will work to keep the UK in the EU and it will also put somebody in charge would actually try to make an EU fist on the international stage, image the EU acting with UK/France like assertiveness that would be like….the USA 🙂
You forgot to mention what I think is the most important reason : he is too high profile and charismatic. He would provide the job he would hold with high visibility and would strengthen its position in the institutional framework in a time when the Council seeks to prevent any non intergovernmental institution to be seen as relevant in the European Union. This alone would prevent his appointment.
“But some are more equal than others!”
Spoken like a true social democrat. Good luck with getting consent to that common foreign and security policy.
I’m not sure how fair it is to say that Blair divided the EU; why is it Blair who did this rather than Chirac? A majority of EU27 states participated in the Iraq invasion, as did many non-EU European countries.
I know it’s rude to mention this in front of people who wish for a common EU foreign policy or army, but four EU member states are not members of NATO: Ireland (which can’t fight on the same side as Britain), Sweden, which has chosen neutrality, and Austria and Finland which were required to be neutral as a result of the Cold War. These countries effectively don’t participate in *any* invasions.
The only countries both in the EU and in NATO which didn’t send troops (let alone support the coalition) were Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta. So it might have been fairer to have written:
“He managed to have Spain and Italy and the Netherlands and Portugal and Denmark and Poland and Hungary and Romania and Bulgaria and the Czech Republic and Slovakia and Latvia and Lithuania and Estonia, and that’s just the EU member states, on his side …”
Fair point if all EU states are equal. But some are more equal than others!
Being peace envoy in the Middle East should tell Blair something about the effects of ‘personality’ if the institutional and political foundations are missing.
With rebate, veto, red lines and treaty reform obstruction, as well as outside the eurozone and Schengen and the Charter of Fundamental Rights and JHA, the UK never came close to the ‘heart of Europe’, even under Blair.