Wednesday 7 October 2009

Tony Blair wrong choice for Europe

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.


World stage

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


High Representative/Vice-President

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.

Ralf Grahn


  1. Everybody in the EU knows who Blair is. Everybody will be watching him. No other candidate can make those claims.

    As for not being wanted by the British public, he won three elections in the UK and Labour was still ahead in the polls when he left. Not exactly proof that he is unpopular here, is it?

  2. Simon,

    A majority of Brits polled on Tony Blair as European Council President were against.

    He left Europe with a weak Lisbon Treaty due to UK "red lines" at every turn since Nice and four major British opt-outs.

    Although it is outside the European theme I have written about, I respect Tony Blair as a British politician.

    The European Union has a President, of the Commission, approved by the European Parliament. It is going to get a High Representative/Vice-President for the foreign and security policy, which sadly will still be in the intergovernmental arena.

    The higher the profile of the President of the European Council, the more potential conflict between these actors.

    Long term, the best solution would be parliamentary government built around what now is the President of the Commission.

  3. "A majority of Brits polled on Tony Blair as European Council President were against."

    A majority of Brits weren't asked. They don't have a say in the matter anyway.

    "The European Union has a President, of the Commission, approved by the European Parliament."

    Who most people in the street have never heard of and nobody outside the EP voted for.

    The EU has failed dismally in engaging public interest. A high profile figure like Blair as President would change that immediately. As far as I'm concerned engaging public interest is a priority if the EU institutions are to become meaningful; keeping obscure eurocrat administrators happy isn't.

  4. Simon,

    Newspapers have reported on a poll, just a few days ago (perhaps Times Online).

    Even among the British public, some may be aware of José Manuel Barroso, recently nominated by the European Council and approved by the European Parliament for a second term.

    I imagine that we both want EU citizens, including British ones, to become more knowledgeable about the European Union, although I prefer finding the right men or women for the new jobs as outlined by the Lisbon Treaty.

  5. Blair is very controversial.

    Think about it.

    Faithful Christians don't want him, he has blood in his hands (religious Muslims maybe?)

    Atheists don't want him (I don't wonder why..).

    Eurosceptic Tories don't want him (makes sense).

    Pro-EU people don't want him either.

    Socialists don't want him. Too neoLiberal.
    Conservatives don't want him (his labour)

    Actually, nobody wants him!

    Why the Heck the EU council should want such a guy????

    But the important is the message such an appointment will give to all of us. A message of chip opportunism and megalomaniac ambitions whereas what europeans really needs is a message of an EU who is based on principles....

    Blair? No thanx!

  6. If you want a Brit one, Chris Patten is just perfect. But Blair? It's just inconceivable..


Due deluge of spam comments no more comments are accepted.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.