Tony Blair’s inexorable journey towards becoming the European Union’s first President has at last started to unravel. The Lisbon Treaty includes a clause changing this position from one that rotates between the heads of the EU’s member states to one that becomes more permanent. It’s not an executive position like the US or French presidencies, more of a coordinating figure-head role. It’s a departure fro precedent and intended to facilitate development of the Union and answer the question: “Who do I call when I want to speak to Europe?”
There has been a backlash against the prospect of his presidency, with opposition addressing a number of themes: his support and instigation of the war in Iraq; his close (some would say fawning) relationship with George W. Bush; the UK’s refusal to adopt the Euro as its currency; the list goes on. For many, the thought of a former PM of one of the EU’s more Eurosceptic members becoming its nominal head is unacceptable. Despite his popularity while running the UK, he’s quite a divisive figure (see; Iraq War, George W. Bush) and some commentators now indicate they would prefer the first President to come from one of the smaller EU states and favour someone who can bring people together, not divide them.
Nicolas Sarkozy seems to have withdrawn his support for Blair, while the Benelux states and Austria are outright hostile to the idea. Blair’s only outspoken pal in all of this seems to be Silvio Berlusconi – and you know you’re in trouble when your only friend is Silvio Berlusconi. More bad news for the Blair campaign this morning:
Tony Blair’s former chief adviser on the EU has misgivings about the ex-prime minister becoming President of Europe, as the campaign to overturn his bid gathers pace.
Sir Stephen Wall – one of the key architects of the post of EU president – said a high-profile figure such as Mr Blair was “not necessarily a very good idea” and cast doubt on his ability to build consensus among EU leaders. A figure from a smaller state would send a “unifying signal”, he added.
The surprise intervention came amid growing signs that a President Blair would not be welcomed by ordinary citizens of Europe, despite their leaders showing support.
So other names have been floated, now that the Irish have voted ‘Yes’ to the Lisbon Treaty referendum and the Czech president seems to have realised that he alone cannot hold back implementation of the Treaty. Implementation requires a President and one needs to be chosen before the end of the year. Today’s Independent identifies the front runners as:
Jan Peter Balkenende 4/1: Current Dutch PM, a Christian Democrat once described as a ‘petit bourgeois Harry Potter’
Jean-Claude Juncker 5/1: Prime Minister of Luxembourg, author of the Maastricht Treaty and therefore creator of the euro
Paavo Lipponen 6/1: Former PM of Finland, a social democrat who supported the Iraq war but is not a toxic figure in Europe
Mary Robinson 8/1: Former president of Ireland and UN human rights chief whose odds at Ladbrokes shortened yesterday
My obvious preference would be for the latter, not simply because she’s Irish, but because of her track record of speaking out for the disadvantaged and downtrodden. She has a razor-sharp intellect combined with a very human compassion. She is not a bureaucrat but gets things done. Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom earlier this year, just the latest in a long string of awards recognising her achievements and excellence. She is the antithesis of the “grubby politician” and would speak out to EU leaders, reminding them of their obligations to their electorates and to the wider populations of the world.
There is already a Facebook Group dedicated to her election (5,700 members and counting) and a dedicated campaign website at http://www.MaryRobinson.eu. Both set out the clear arguments highlighting her suitability for the role. The selection of Mary Robinson would send out a positive message to the peoples of Europe and the wider world – let’s hope the leaders of the EU are listening.