The big European Council meeting is wrapping up this afternoon, and it looks like two definite conclusions are emerging: the Lisbon Treaty will shortly be signed by Czech president Klaus and Tony Blair will not be the first “president of Europe”.
Sources at the council meeting are saying that almost all EU leaders are now unfavourable toward the prospect of Blair getting the presidency - most notably the leaders of Portugal, Spain and Greece (basically the only socialist governments in the EU other than the UK) and Angela Merkel, the main power broker as the leader of the largest EU country. It looks like the only leader supporting Tony Blair is his former rival, Gordon Brown. How bitterly ironic.
The British media has run with this story today, effectively proclaiming the idea of a Blair presidency dead. In fact the story has been so widespread, and Downing Street so willing to publicly accept defeat, that I can’t help but wonder if this is an attempt by New Labour to feed this story to the media in order to take Blair out of the “frontrunner” status. Frontrunners are notoriously handicapped when it comes to getting nominated for EU positions. It may be that Blair now thinks the best way of getting the position is by appearing to be out of the race.
Much of the British media has been focusing on Blair’s role in Iraq and economic policies that stoked the financial crisis as the reason so may on the continent are opposed to his presidency. But I can tell you the biggest objection I hear coming from Brussels is there mere fact that he is British. They say the presidency should not go to someone from a country that is not really a fully participatory member of the EU – considering that it doesn’t use the euro, is not in the borderless Schengen zone, is the only country to receive a rebate from its EU financial contributions and has opted out of the charter of fundamental human rights.
Interestingly it would appear that the socialists are not backing Blair because they’ve made the political calculation that David Miliband is the only socialist who stands a chance of getting the new foreign policy chief position. And since both new positions can’t go to Brits, they want to squash talk of Blair right now in order to get Miliband in the running early. And his very pro-European speech earlier this week certainly ingratiated him to many on the continent.
So it looks like we’re back to square one, though Blair could conceivably pull it off. There is a lot working against him, but in the end the powers that be in continental Europe may decide that the appeal of having a “heavy hitting” president outweighs the baggage that Blair would bring to the position with him.