Saturday, 3 October 2009

Why President Blair?

If Ireland has approved the EU Lisbon Treaty, discussion about the new President of the European Council starts in earnest.

Sweden’s Fredrik Reinfeldt, Carl Bildt and Cecilia Malmström can use the time between the last essential country approval and the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon for open and transparent nomination procedures.

British media have already trumpeted the election of Tony Blair referring to each other, but before rushing ahead there is need for rational and open discussion.

From a European perspective, let us look at the man, the country and the reactions.


The man

Tony Blair is remembered as a long serving Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and for at least one stirring speech on Europe.

Blair is also remembered for the non-ratification of the Constitutional Treaty, “red lines” and four major British opt-outs leading to a weaker Lisbon Treaty, and for greater loyalty towards the administration of George W. Bush than towards efforts to find a European position on Iraq.


The country

The Labour government of Gordon Brown is said to support Blair, but the government is on its last legs.

Britain has ratified the Lisbon Treaty, with four major opt-outs, and it is known as a grudging and minimalist member state in the European Union.

In a few months this relationship is set to turn from bad to worse. A new Conservative government will predictably take over. The Tories have already done their best to flee to the fringes of European politics. They have left the mainstream European People’s Party (old EPP-ED group) in the European Parliament, and they have formed the anti-integrationist European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group together with other hard line nationalists.

Under David Cameron and William Hague, the Conservative Party has loudly promised its best efforts to wreck the Lisbon Treaty, offering under hand support to the headstrong Czech President Vaclav Klaus to oppose approval by the parliament of his own country.

The Tories reject the basic tenet of evolving integration, by promising negotiations to roll back existing EU competences.

Perversely, instead of leaving the European Union, they want to stay on the inside to play their veto card against the interests of Europe and EU citizens.

Despite Britain’s many assets, it is no longer in the interest of the European Union to keep the United Kingdom as a member. The grass roots of the Conservative Party are in favour of secession. For once the interests of Europe and anti-European Brits coincide.

An In or Out referendum would settle the matter, at least for a few decades. A more mature Britain could reapply in due time.



According Times Online (3 October 2009) William Hague, the Conservative shadow secretary for foreign policy, sees Blair as the worst choice for Britain and the European Union.

If the (probable) next UK government does not want Blair, what do active Europeans think?

Just a few examples:

Read the petition and the comments on European Tribune’s Stop Blair!

Read the comments following Jean Quatremer’s blog post on Coulisses de Bruxelles, where the duo Tony Blair and Frank Walter Steinmeier was presented as a done deal.


The Swedish Presidency and the European leaders should consider the track records of potential candidates and listen to the opinions before they decide on the new President of the European Council.

It is difficult to see Tony Blair as a good choice for the European Union. As a European he has fallen short of expectations. His country is turning into a disaster for the European Union, if it stays, and the next government is dead set against him. Popular opinion would hardly welcome the choice of Blair.

To the European Council: Arrange open nominations and allow for a free discussion, including media debates, before you act!

Ralf Grahn