Tuesday 27 October 2009

Double standards for Blair and Miliband?

The blog post “David Miliband makes friends in Luxembourg” (26 October 2009) on Charlemagne’s notebook raised the question if EU member states apply double standards to the putative candidacy of Tony Blair to become President of the European Council compared to David Miliband as the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy:

“It was striking to me that some of the same diplomats who are most hostile to the idea of a President Tony Blair were quite positive about the idea of a High Rep Miliband.

This is interesting, as it comforts my hunch that many of the British-specific arguments levelled against Mr Blair—ie, that nobody should seek a top Europe job if their country is not in Schengen, or shuns the euro—are an excuse for Blair-rejection. Because the same objections are not made in relation to Mr Miliband, or at least not with the same force.”


Double standards?

Charlemagne’s hunch is worth discussion, if we want to approach the new top jobs (and other political choices) in a principled manner.

True, under the Lisbon Treaty the United Kingdom remains outside the common currency (eurozone), the Schengen area of free travel, major parts of justice and home affairs (area of freedom, security and justice) as well as the community of values manifested by the adoption of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Tony Blair and David Miliband are equally British, right?

Objective differences?

In my humble opinion, there are two more objective standards to consider. One has to do with the different jobs, the other with the personal responsibilities of the putative candidates.

Job description

The President will chair and drive forward the work of the European Council, which is meant to provide the European Union with impetus for its development and to define its political directions and priorities.

The tasks of the European Council encompass all policy areas of the EU.

The High Representative will conduct the EU’s common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and shall ensure the consistency of the union’s external action, including work done by the Commission.

The CFSP is a distinct policy area, where the High Representative/Vice-President and the European External Action Service (EEAS) are intended to improve the input and output mechanisms, although under the Lisbon Treaty the area remains within the sphere of intergovernmental cooperation, basically subject to unanimity (liberum veto).

The internal and external policies of the European Union are meant to be in harmony, but the British opt-outs do not directly concern the area of the CFSP. EU countries realise that the UK has diplomatic and military know-how and assets.

Personal responsibility

Tony Blair served as distinguished Prime Minister of Britain from May 1997 to June 2007, but he is a failed European. No other individual is a squarely responsible for the current relationship between the UK and the rest of the European Union, including the opt-outs, countless “red lines” and prevalent reticence regarding progress. His promises to bring Britain to the heart of Europe came to naught. Blair opted for the Bush administration’s war against Iraq rather than for finding European consensus.

Few sane and sound organisations would elect lukewarm supporters to high office.

After junior ministerial posts, David Miliband became responsible for the Environment from 2006, and he put climate change firmly on the agenda (one of the EU’s absolute priorities). He serves as Foreign Secretary since June 2007, which marks the start of his personal responsibility in EU foreign policy. (The detailed mandate for the intergovernmental conference leading to the Lisbon Treaty was ready, so his part has been to defend the amending treaty and to prepare for its entry into force.)

Miliband’s interviews and actions as well as his speech yesterday at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) take the limits of the Lisbon Treaty as given, but his attitude is constructive and he argues well. His views are more or less in the European mainstream, but they are noticed because of the hostility of the Tories, UKIP and BNP as well as widespread anti-EU sentiment in Britain.


The jobs and the personal responsibilities differ between Tony Blair and David Miliband.

Even if both are Britons, Miliband is more acceptable on “objective” grounds, although it could be rash to conclude that the United Kingdom under a Conservative government would behave more constructively because of an EU High Representative from Britain.

Ralf Grahn

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