By Denis MacShane
Like his mentor Bill Clinton, Tony Blair is poised to become the comeback kid of his generation. Europe’s chattering class is currently buzzing with speculation that the former British prime minister is about to emerge from semiretirement to become president of the European Union Council. The new post, created by the Lisbon Treaty, will preside over meetings of Europe’s elected leaders, where all the EU’s real decisions get made. Assuming the treaty gets ratifiedâ€”Czech President VÃ¡clav Klaus is the last holdoutâ€”Europe’s 27 prime ministers, presidents, and chancellors will soon have to pick a person to speak in their name. And the odds favor Blair.
This is not a traditional contest for a big international job. Everyone knows Blair’s qualities and faults. But almost everyone also recognizes that he can put Europe on the world map in a way that no Brussels Eurocrat has ever managed.
That doesn’t guarantee his chances, however. Blair insists he’s not formally a candidate for a post that, after all, doesn’t even exist yet (it’s waiting for the Lisbon Treaty to come into force). But EU leaders are planning a mid-November conclave to select someone nonetheless, and also to fill the new post of EU foreign minister (or high representative, as the job will be called in EU jargon). Plenty of horse trading will ensue. But if Europe chooses a bland, barely known former national leader for its first true president, the continent and the rest of the world will roll over in boredom and promptly ignore him or her. Thus Gordon Brown (privately) and Silvio Berlusconi (publicly) are vigorously pushing Blair forward, even as a furious anti-Blair campaign has gotten underway.
A Stop Blair Web site has already collected 38,000 signatures, and Britain’s Tories are leading the charge to block him. This Conservative opposition is somewhat surprising, for when Blair’s name was first floated this summer, party leader David Cameron let it be known he was comfortable with the prospect. Blair is a fierce defender of London’s battered financial sector and a strong defender of the Atlantic allianceâ€”two causes dear to the Conservatives’ hearts. So Tory Tony should present no problems for a putative Prime Minister Cameron. Like-minded European leaders, such as the center-right Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, also support him. The problem seems to be with Cameron’s No. 2, William Hague, who leads the popular anti-EU faction in the Conservative Party and has spent recent weeks denouncing the prospect of a President Blair. Hague fears his selection would mean the continuation of Labourism by other means. Hague even convened a meeting of EU ambassadors in London recently to lecture them on why Blair shouldn’t be supported. Click here to continue.