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17th Feb 2019

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Blair: EU should have elected leader

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said the European Union must have an elected leader to give it the "clear leadership" to successfully spar with rising powers such as China in the future.

Previously touted as a potential candidate for European Council President, Blair said the fundamental reasons behind European integration had altered.

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  • The war in Iraq isolated Blair from many of his European colleagues (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

"The rationale for Europe now is power, not peace," he told The Times newspaper in an interview published on Thursday (9 June), adding that European citizens were willing to support this new direction for the European project.

"The crucial thing is to understand that the only way that you will get support for Europe today is not on the basis of a sort of postwar view that the EU is necessary for peace."

"For my children's generation, that is just a bizarre argument. They don't see that as a real threat."

"What they can understand completely is that in a world in particular in which China is going to become the dominant power of the 21st century, it is sensible for Europe to combine together, to use its collective weight in order to achieve influence."

At a time when the eurozone debt crisis and rising nationalism across the region appear to be threatening many of the EU's most ambitious projects, the former Labour leader urged the bloc to move closer together and form common policies in areas such as energy, defence, immigration and crime.

He warned his more eurosceptic compatriots, who have traditionally favoured Britain's 'special relationship' with the US over 'more Europe', that the island nation has little chance of wielding influence if it acts alone.

"We won't have the weight and influence a country like Britain needs unless we're part of that European power as well," he said.

But more European integration to combat the rising powers of China, Brazil and India, must be accompanied by greater democratic legitimacy, Blair added.

"If you want to have a debate about the direction of Europe it seems to me very hard to have that on a European-wide basis unless you have some means by which people elect something that is Europe-wide in nature."

European federalists have frequently touted the idea of an elected European leader to lead the 27-member bloc, while more statist politicians fear such a post would greatly undermine their own authority.

In the interview, Blair himself conceded that the idea had "no chance of being accepted at the present time".

On recent events in the Arab world, Blair said he strongly supports the intervention in Libya, and by implication the efforts of Britain's current Conservative leader David Cameron.

A special envoy of the 'Quartet' in the Middle East - the EU, Russia, the UN and the US - Blair said the West must formulate a clear plan on dealing with the current unrest, despite what some critics perceive as his relative silence in the area.

"This is a situation in which you definitely need a plan," he said.

"If you get a situation where people get the right to vote but no other change, no jobs, then two or three years down the line other people will say that Islam is the answer. So our task is not to be spectators."

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