EU Presidency: why Tony Blair’s hopes are fading fast
The much-vaunted ‘motorcade factor’ is exactly what the other leaders don’t want
Earlier this week, Tony Blair was laying down the terms under which he would accept the EU presidency - or least his friends were on his behalf: it had to be a "proper job", worthy of his immense international stature. Today, he's looking like the least popular man in Europe, with his chances of becoming the first president approaching zero.
As The First Post reported yesterday, the word from Elysee palace sources following a meeting between President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel on Wednesday was that they were looking for an alternative. They and other centre right leaders want one of their own to be president.
By Thursday, as EU leaders gathered in Brussels, it became clear the anti-Blair feeling was spreading. Despite an appeal by Gordon Brown to "get real" about Blair's merits, there is lingering suspicion over his friendship with George Bush and support for the Iraq war, and a general sentiment that the former British prime minister is too big for his boots.
Most leaders want a "chairman not a chief" to take the presidency under the terms of the Lisbon treaty and the point made by David Miliband last weekend that Blair would stop the traffic when his motorcade hit town has clearly backfired.
As Matti Vanhanen, the Finnish Prime Minister, said: "The role of the permanent president - he or she is really the chairman of the European Council, not the President of Europe. The job is to prepare items for the European Council."
Or as German sources put it, Angela Merkel did not relish the idea of having to listen to "Mr Flash".
According to a YouGov poll, the British public is no keener on Blair becoming president than are EU leaders, not that they have any say in the matter. The poll for the Daily Telegraph found only 31 per cent supported Blair for president, with the same number opposed and 38 per cent undecided.
One upshot of Blair's presidential ambitions going down the plughole is that David Miliband is now on the shortlist to become the EU's first foreign minister, or "high representative". However, Miliband reiterated yesterday that he was not available. As The First Post's Westminster Mole reported recently, he and his brother Ed Miliband are both reckoned by some Labour insiders to be favourites to take over from Brown as Labour leader in the event of a pre-election coup this winter. ·