Daniel Korski

Hail President Blair?

Hail President Blair?
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So Tony Blair will be an official British candidate for the job of EU Council President should the Irish vote for the Lisbon Treaty (and the Polish and Czech presidents sign the document). That's what Baroness Kinnock has said.

For many CoffeeHousers, this will combine two things you love to hate. But few Britons have the ex-Prime Minister's international starpower and commitment to a free-trading Europe. The French Presidency has shown that only big country, big personality leadership can make a difference on the key foreign policy issues.

But for those very reasons, it is hard to see Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel backing a Blair candidature. Both will be loath to share the limelight with a President Blair when that other President, Barack Obama, comes around for visits. Smaller countries will also worry that drawing a Council President from one of the largest EU countries will marginalise their interests.

Then there is the Iraq War. Though it may today seem like yesterday's war, many Europeans still have not forgiven Blair for backing the Bush administration. With a post-Azores generation of European leaders in place (only Silvio Berlusconi remains of the old group), few of the new players will want to be reminded of those bad old days.  

Finally, the Lisbon Treaty itself is actually very unclear on what the Council President will do. When I asked Jean-Luc Dehane, who was part of the team that drafted the now-dead EU Constitution, which formed the basis of the Lisbon Treaty, he dismissed the importance of the post altogether. "Just a chairman", he said. That does not sound like a job Blair would even want.

Many other issues also remain unresolved. For example the role of the rotating EU Presidency? Next year, when the Spanish take the baton from the Swedes, what would be the respective roles of Jose Zapatero, the Spanish leader, and, say, Tony Blair. With a new EU "foreign minister" to be chosen as well who will represent the EU externally?

For all these reasons, my money is still on Spanish Socialist ex-Prime Minster Felipe Gonzalez rather than Tony Blair.