Berlusconi says: 'Vote Tony' for EU president
14.10.09 @ 17:23
BRUSSELS - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Wednesday (14 October) came out in favour of "Forza Blair" as president of the European Council.
"Tony Blair has all the credentials to become the first president of the European Council," Mr Berlusconi wrote in a letter that appeared in Il Foglio, a conservative daily.
The Italian leader was responding to an editorial entitled "Vote Tony, vote Tony!" in the paper that had appeared on Monday.
"Dear editor, I absolutely agreed with your idea, even before you could think of it," the prime minister wrote.
He added that the former British prime minister should be "appointed to that post as soon as legally and politically possible."
On Tuesday, the newspaper known for its Fox-news style neo-conservatism, said that Mr Blair's candidacy was an opportunity both for Europe and for "Il Cavaliere."
"If Silvio Berlusconi, after the furious and embarrassing controversies of recent months, wanted to revive the activities of his government's international profile and give its political agenda a boost, he should exploit a tremendous opportunity: to fight for the nomination of former British prime minister Tony Blair as president of the European Council," the paper wrote.
Europe had hope for a future, the article continued, "only if a figure of great international calibre, able to warm hearts, to be respected outside Europe and perhaps even feared, but also able to identify the institutions with his leadership, is chosen."
The paper said it could also ease tensions with the Italian centre-left opposition, as Mr Blair comes from their political family.
If the Italian leader is hoping to win over resistance to Mr Blair's coronation, he chose an unusual forum. Il Foglio is most known for its robust support of the Iraq war.
It has often been said, even by his supporters, that if Mr Blair does not win the post, one of the biggest reasons will be the former prime minister's backing of the invasion of Iraq.
The paper also cheered Mr Blair's conversion to Roman Catholicism and signed off the editorial: "Forza Blair!" echoing the name of Mr Berlusconi's former party.
Mr Berlusconi's backing strengthens Mr Blair's chances, although it reinforces the perception that the battle over the ex-UK leader could shape up to be one between large and small EU states.
The Benelux countries a week ago released a proposal for the position of European Council president and high representative for foreign affairs - essentially a foreign minister for the EU.
The document has been widely interpreted as an anti-Blair move, as their job description of the office of president is closer to a paper-shuffler than a statesman. A Belgian diplomat was also quoted in Le Monde as saying that the anti-Blair interpretation is correct, although it is thought that the Netherlands is taking a softer line.
Poland is expected to be releasing its own perspective on what sort of president Europe should have. Early signs suggest Warsaw's thinking is in line with Belgium and Luxembourg, with Poland's EU affairs minister Mikolaj Dowgielewicz recently saying the new appointee should not be a "celebrity" but should focus on consensus-building instead.