David Blackburn

The EU prepares for a Conservative government

The EU prepares for a Conservative government
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The wheels seem to have come off Tony Blair’s EU presidency campaign and no doubt there is much genuflection and soul-searching in Connaught Square. The Director of the Centre for European Reform, Charles Grant, gives an intriguing explanation at Comment is Free:

‘Yet it may be the Conservatives who spike Blair's chances of getting the job. William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, has told the other EU governments that the Conservatives would see support for a Blair presidency as a "hostile act". A week ago, Blair was the clear favourite, with the likely support of Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, plus several of the smaller countries. But on my travels around Europe last week, I have found that Hague's comments have made a huge impact.

A number of prime ministers are unwilling to take a step that would incur the wrath of an incoming Conservative government. President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel remain supporters of Blair, but are now hesitating over backing a man with so many opponents. The Conservatives may have achieved their first diplomatic coup in Europe, even before taking office.’

The EU must placate a fiercely Eurosceptic prospective Conservative government. Blair’s support for the Iraq war and impassioned Atlanticism make him a controversial presidency candidate in any case, but the Tories visceral animosity to Blair makes his candidature the obvious initial concession.

Brown’s government is supine at home but the apparent ditching of Blair on the back of a Hague after dinner speech illustrates just how moribund it is abroad. I don’t see why there must be a European President, and certainly one that’s unelected, but there is going to be one. The first EU President will define the role. If it is filled by some Beneluxian nonentity European nations will cease to be as prominent, both economically and diplomatically, on the world stage, which, as we emerge from recession, would be disastrous.


If the EU intends the President to project European commercial and diplomatic interests to the Americans and the emerging East, then it should ignore the Tories’ opposition to Blair. Despite past history, Iraq and his current habit of interrupting his jet-set lifestyle to lecture on climate change and materialism, Blair’s international profile and popularity in the US and China would benefit Europe and, dare I say it, Britain. He might not be the Global Statesman of the Year, but Blair is ideal for this seemingly absurd but important job. The Tories are right to seek the restoration of sovereign powers to Westminster, but Blair's candidature is no such issue.