Will Tony Blair become President of Europe courtesy of an Irish yes vote for the treaty in October? The new Europe minister Glenys Kinnock blew the gaffe on the open secret that old rival Gordon Brown was formally backing his predecessor for the new post in Strasbourg yesterday, immediately unleashing a torrent of controversy, noted by the New York Times which still retains a memory of the old Blair magic Stateside. On this side of the pond where the magic never worked so well, leading europhile commentator John Palmer scorned the very idea because of Blairs indelible association with the invasion of Iraq, but this smacks of bitterness over a fading issue. Bitterness is not confined to the left but this pro-Tory commentator in the Telegraph surely goes over the top.
Considering the last time we had anything equivalent to a President of Europe it was Adolf Hitler, there is a definite congruence to this proposed appointment. Tony does not brook contradiction.
Better reasons for opposing Blair include Britains absence from key EU projects at the heart of Europe such as non-membership of the euro and Schengen. The opposition of the Conservatives, probably near the brink of power, can hardly be ignored, coming from hardline euro-sceptic William Hague.
The creation of a new EU President could be enormously damaging for Europe. Any holder is likely to try to centralise power for themselves in Brussels and dominate national foreign policies. In the hands of an operator as ambitious as Tony Blair, that is a near certainty. He should be let nowhere near the job. It shows what a grip Lord Mandelson now has over Gordon Brown that he has been forced to support his bitterest rival.
On the other hand, Blair as an original champion of EU expansion could help close the widening gap between the original Franco-German axis and the accession countries of the east. The UKs euro-awkwardness is also less glaring now, given that most countries led by Germany have taken a robustly national approach to handling the recession. Despite its grand title, the job of President of the Council is more diplomatic than executive. New methods of co-ordination have to worked out with what used to be thought of as the Mr Europe post, the presidency of the commission which has been declining in prestige for some time. Denis McShane, former Europe minister and a rare example of a genuine Labour enthusiast for the EU, makes the best of the case for a Blair presidency.
Europe has to decide to think big or small. Do Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Donald Tusk want a world figure who can open doors in Washington and Beijing and get his calls answered quickly when he speaks for Europe? Or a canny cardinal who knows the ways of Brussels and can draft the endless compromises that keep the EU show on the road?
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London