Phew! Tony Blair rules himself out of EU presidency

Even his friends feel it was Blair's over-enthusiasm for a federal Europe that got us into this mess

Column LAST UPDATED AT 11:05 ON Mon 2 Jun 2014

Tony Blair today ruled himself out as a candidate for the EU presidency, which will comes as a relief to those who feared it would only boost Ukip's argument for Britain to leave Europe.

“I am not a candidate," the former PM told businessmen attending a London event hosted by the CBI. "Don’t get my position mixed up with this. That’s not going to happen."

Blair was lecturing on the need for pro-Europeans to stand up for EU reform and not let the Eurosceptics, encouraged by the election victories of Ukip and the Front National, lead the debate.

“The election results matter," he said. "They are a wake-up call to Europe and to Britain. Our response in Europe as in Britain should be to lead, not follow.”

Blair was picking up on comments he made on Radio 4's Today programme last week when, as The Mole reported, it sounded very much as if he was making a bid for the job of president of the EU Commission when Manuel Jose Barroso stands down in October.

The Mole’s report led to a flurry from readers blogging their opposition to Blair. 

The fact that he has now ruled himself out will be welcomed by former allies who felt there was just a touch of hypocrisy in Blair lecturing on the need for EU reform.

Veteran Blairite Labour MP Barry Sheerman tweeted: "Blair tells us to 'wake up' to need for reforming Europe! Quite right but it was his passion for expanding EU too fast at heart of problem!"

However, by ruling himself out, Blair will have disappointed The Sun's Eurosceptic political commentator Trevor Kavanagh who wrote earlier today that were the former PM to become EU president it would hasten Britain’s exit because nobody would want to stay in a Europe ruled by Blair.

While Blair used today's speech to advocate “quite radical reform” of European institutions in the wake of the election results, he still backs a federalist programme: he urged greater integration among EU nations in areas such as defence and energy in order to protect the continent’s global influence.

“Alone, European nations will decline in relative importance. The rationale for Europe today is not peace: it is power,” he said.

He said David Cameron "can perfectly argue for a big agenda for change" in the EU but he needs to build alliances not threaten to pull out. 

Blair was clearly referring to the weekend report in Der Spiegel that Cameron had warned Angela Merkel against the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker, the former PM of Luxembourg, to replace Barroso as EU president.

Cameron is said to have described Juncker as a "figure from the 80s" who would never agree to the sort of reforms Britain wants and whose appointment would only hasten Britain's departure from the EU.

While Juncker accused Cameron of "blackmail" and said he was still confident of getting the job, The Sun – in an echo of its famous headline 'Up Yours Delors' – delightedly reported Cameron’s intervention under the headline: 'Stick it up your Juncker'.

Call The Mole a cynic, but could Dave’s fiery opposition to Juncker have anything to do with the threat from Ukip in this Thursday's Newark by-election? 

Cameron has to be seen to be standing up to dastardly European federalists if the Tories are to have any chance of retaining the normally safe Tory seat from Ukip's Roger Helmer, despite a 16,152-vote majority at the last election. ·