President Blair? Is he the best hope for faltering EU project?
The former PM, a pro-European to his manicured fingertips, appears to make a pitch for the job
Could Tony Blair be pushing himself forward to become the next President of the European Union? The question has been raised after a Radio 4 Today programme interview which sounded like an application for the job.
While David Cameron hits the phone to Angela Merkel ahead of tonight's panic summit of European heads in Brussels, Blair is already in Berlin for face-to-face talks with the German Chancellor about how to rescue the European project from a swing to the anti-EU parties across the continent, including Ukip in Britain and the Front National in France.
As Blair's one-time Minister for Europe Denis MacShane tweeted this morning: “While Cam pleads with Merkel on phone line from Downing St bunker Blair is sur place in Berlin for face-to-face with Angie. TB for Com Prez?”
The rise of the Eurosceptics – make that Euro-haters - has clearly left EU leaders wobbling at the knees. But Blair said they should toughen up and he accused Ukip of being “nasty and unpleasant” despite the surge in popularity for Farage’s party in the local and European elections.
“I have always said you have to have proper controls on immigration and deal with those parts of the immigrant population who are rejecting integrating into the mainstream. However, to allow that to trend into anti-immigrant feeling is a huge mistake for the country.
“People in Ukip say other politicians don’t get it. I do get it and I get them. If you look a little bit beneath that Ukip façade you see something pretty nasty and unpleasant.”
Ukip and the FN – not to mention fascist Golden Dawn or the extreme lefties in Athens – are "very reactionary forces," said Blair. "You have got to confront them, expose them and take them on."
Blair was touted as a possible EU president in 2009 when Labour under Gordon Brown was heading for defeat in the 2010 general election. At that time, his allies let it be known he would only be interested in the job if it carried real power.
As The Week reported at the time, friends of the former PM told The Times that he wants to "make a difference" and not just act as the permanent chairman of the EU Council of Ministers, which is all some European leaders expect of him. It would also have meant a massive cut in his annual income, reckoned to be over £10 million.
So Blair passed up the chance five years ago, but times and Farage/Le Pen have radically changed the face of Europe. He could now be seen as just the man to step in and rescue the European project from the Vandals and the Visigoths. And having earned a ton of money since he left Downing Street, the appeal of the title – President Blair – might now outweigh other considerations.
Blair has a powerful case as a candidate: whether you like him or loathe him, he’s still box office. He’s not a faceless bureaucrat like the two front-runners for the post, Jean-Claude Juncker, the former PM of Luxembourg and Martin Shulz, a German lefty and president of the European Parliament.
More important, as Blair demonstrated on Today, he is pro-European down to his manicured fingertips. His comments this morning will be music to the ears of the centrists who still hold the power in Europe, despite the rise of the Eurosceptics.
“You have to expose the fact that these parties have no solutions to the problems of the 21st Century," he said. "For a country like Britain, if you want to exercise weight and power and influence in the world, you have to do it through alliances.
“The rationale for Europe today is probably stronger than it’s ever been… the rationale for Europe today is power.”
Blair brushed aside concerns that the long-delayed Chilcot report into allegations of an “illegal” invasion of Iraq could lead to him being branded as a war criminal. Blair said he wants the report to be published so he can answer any allegations.