Over the last few weeks there’s been a fair bit of heat generated by the suggestion that Tony Blair is interested in trying to become the first occupant of the post of President of the European Council, created by the Lisbon Treaty.
A lot of people seem very opposed to this - there appear to be no fewer than eight different Facebook groups of people opposing it (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), a website and a petition for you to sign.
Personally I can’t get too excited about fighting Blair on this. It may well be that, particularly following his actions on Iraq, he is not the person to take on such an important role on behalf of the EU’s 27 national governments - and that does seem to be the view of a good many of them at the moment. But I think there would also be some benefits (not only to Britain but to the EU as a whole) in having a Brit in that role - not least because it might help the British public to see the EU as a useful way of helping to achieve objectives that the British public (and those of other European countries) want to see achieved, rather than just of creating endless pointless interfering bureaucracies, which is what they largely seem to think it is there for at the moment.
I am more struck by some of the ironies of Blair going for this position.
Firstly, this is a post that will exist at all largely because Blair’s government argued for it, through the Convention. There is clearly some irony (which I have not seen picked up that widely recently) in the main proposer of this role becoming its first occupant - even if this seemed to some of us a distinct possibility at the time. Indeed I wrote here in March 2002 of this role when it was first proposed that its “working title [is] ‘the Tony Blair job’”.
A second irony is that Blair only wants this job if it can be made to be sufficiently important and powerful (and he is going round saying so, much as Paddy Ashdown did with his prospective Afghan job - in this case there may well be several prospective Karzais around the place willing to use their veto). This is consistent with his desire to create a powerful European Council President in the first place, and with his apparent view that government in general, and the EU in particular, needs someone who is in a genuinely powerful position to lead it if it is to achieve things.
But the man now arguing that there should be such a genuinely powerful President of the European Council is the very same person who, when Prime Minister of the UK, consistently fought against almost any extension of the ability of the EU to act effectively together - what he now wants this person to do.
If someone had demanded a few years ago the sort of powers that prospective President Blair is now insisting on for this role, then Prime Minister Blair would have had a fit.
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