“Tony Blair would be a good choice for Europe”, writes Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform in the Financial Times (6 October 2009). Because the President of the European Council lacks formal powers, his influence will depend on his force of personality, powers of persuasion and contact book.
According to Grant, Blair has a track record as a successful politician, he would give the European Union credibility in other parts of the world, he is a great salesman and he could help the EU to deal with a new Conservative government from 2010.
The sad reality is that the European Union will still lack a real foreign and security policy when the Lisbon Treaty is in force, although the treaty improves the input and output mechanisms.
Nearly all of Grant’s arguments boil down to psychology. Are world powers going to be taken in by band-aid solutions, essentially built on “personality”? Are the players on the world stage that unsophisticated and unconcerned about real credentials?
The (s)election of Blair would be yet another example of the French paradox in EU politics: the will to attain “gloire” without the commensurate means.
Why choose a European Council President almost guaranteed to try to upstage the High Representative/Vice-President in international affairs, instead of promoting progress in the other policy areas covered by the European Council?
Why make a future choice as a gift to a Labour government, which seems to be on its way to retirement?
Would Blair would be a real help with the probable next Conservative government, when the Tories oppose his nomination?
If a Conservative government starts the process to repatriate powers, the United Kingdom may be heading for withdrawal before the first term of a European Council President is ended.
Why hand-pick a candidate the British public does not want?
The governments of the United Kingdom, Ireland and Italy have expressed support for Blair. The media have spread rumours about French support and weakening of German resistance.
Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have set the stage for a more limited role, in line with the Lisbon Treaty provisions.
The selection of the President of the European Council is in the hands of 27 electors. There are no procedures in place for open nominations and competition. The European Parliament and EU citizens are outside the loop. The legitimacy of the appointee does not extend beyond the caucus of the heads of state or government.
The EU leaders cannot count on a favourable public opinion in Europe, if they select Blair. On the contrary, they can be sure of considerable opposition. Would it be wise to widen the chasm between themselves and the public by acting in an authoritarian manner?
In the long run it could be better to opt for a strategic mind and a steady pair of hands to facilitate the substance of the directions and priorities the European Union needs, if it wants to play a constructive role in the world and in the lives of its citizens.
Here are some of the worthy persons who have been mentioned:
Jan Peter Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands
François Fillon, Prime Minister of France
Felipe González, former Prime Minister of Spain
Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister of Luxembourg
Paavo Lipponen, former Prime Minister of Finland
Chris Patten, former UK Government Minister, EU Commissioner for External Relations and last Governor of Hong Kong
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Herman Van Rompuy. Prime Minister of Belgium
The painstaking process of shaping convergent European views on foreign and security policy might be better served by giving the new High Representative/Vice-President the backing to serve without too much interference from an overzealous President of the European Council.
There has been speculation about at least the following few worthy names:
Carl Bildt, Foreign Minister of Sweden
Joschka Fischer, former Foreign Minister of Germany
Franco Frattini, Foreign Minister of Italy and former EU Commissioner
Bernard Kouchner, Foreign Minister of France
Olli Rehn, Commissioner in charge of EU enlargement
Frank Walter Steinmeier, outgoing German Foreign Minister
There are certainly other good names out there, but it is important that EU citizens start the discussion without waiting for the white smoke to rise from the European Council.