Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is emerging as a favorite to be the first permanent president of the European Union, completing a remarkable renaissance for a leader who, along with former president George W. Bush, was excoriated for supporting the Iraq war and the toppling of Saddam Hussein.
Britain’s Independent newspaper reported Sunday that Prime Minister Gordon Brown has given a Blair EU presidency his grudging support. For much of his political career, Brown has struggled to emerge from Blair’s formidable shadow.
Brown "will have to swallow hard to sit down in meetings once again with Blair,” a high-level British official told the Independent. “But he accepts that there needs to be someone from the U.K. in the new global architecture. There is no opposition to the plan. Things have moved on, people have moved on.”
Blair’s return to the world stage has won the approval of European leaders: His high international profile, they say, would lend the gravitas needed to represent the 27-nation alliance to the Obama administration.
Blair’s interest in presiding over the EU is hardly new. In June 2007, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Blair met in Paris to discuss the post, according to The Daily Mail. Blair resigned as prime minister of the United Kingdom just a few days after that meeting.
Last year, Sarkozy had reservations and blocked Blair’s candidacy. The Independent reports Sarkozy has now thrown his influence behind Blair, however.
During the past 15 months, Blair has served as a Middle East envoy trying to hammer out a deal between Israelis and Palestinians. During the recent G20 summit in London, Blair met with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels, ostensibly to discuss the Middle East. It is believed the two also conferred on Blair’s candidacy for the EU presidency.
Several roadblocks remain before Blair could resume a high-profile international role. First, all EU members must approve the Lisbon Treaty, the agreement that provides for an EU presidency.
The critical vote is expected this fall in Ireland. The Irish must approve the treaty before Blair can submit his resume for the job.
Blair also faces a powerful potential rival for the job: German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Merkel, up for re-election in September, has already hinted she would like to serve as the EU’s president if she loses.
Assuming the Lisbon Treaty wins approval, the European commission president and the EU president will divide up responsibilities. The commission president will preside over the organization’s bureaucracy in Belgium, while the EU president will take on a higher profile role negotiating with the United States and other nations, sources say.
Blair’s appointment to the post would not be without controversy. One Facebook group, for example, states: “This group is against Tony Blair becoming EU president because he's a warmonger, liar and generally anti-facts, anti-science and pro-religious mumbo jumbo, religious education, war . . . (etc., etc.).”
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