Thursday

23rd Jan 2020

Blair under attack in bid for EU top job

  • EU capitals have begun a high stakes game for the new power jobs (Photo: Flickr.com)

Eurogroup chief Jean Claude Juncker and the British Conservative party have attacked Tony Blair's bid to become the first EU president, as member states start horse-trading for the EU's top jobs after Ireland's Lisbon Treaty vote.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen on Sunday (4 October) openly backed former British premier Mr Blair to take up the prestigious post once the treaty comes into force. "I've certainly the highest regard for Tony Blair and obviously we await and see if, in fact, he's a candidate, but you can take it that we'd be very supportive yes," he said.

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Mr Cowen is the first EU leader to make a public statement on the issue. But Mr Blair is also said to have the support of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The British Conservatives over the weekend launched a counter-offensive, however, with Luxembourg premier Jean-Claude Juncker, himself once floated as a potential candidate, also sticking in the knife.

William Hague, the Conservative shadow foreign secretary, told The Times that he was lobbying in Paris and Berlin against Mr Blair, whose appointment would trigger an anti-EU backlash in the UK ahead of a potential Tory-orchetsrated referendum on Lisbon.

"There could be no worse way to sell the EU to the people of Britain," he said.

A front page story in the mass-selling tabloid, The Sun, on Monday said Mr Blair would earn €4 million plus perks in an article which seemed designed to further damage his bid.

Jean Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg and the head of the Eurogroup, the 16 EU states which use the euro, also came out against the former British leader.

The interests of small EU states would be threatened if the the first EU president came from a "big member state," he told Financial Times Deutschland.

The first EU president should have strong pro-EU credentials, so that it wouldn't be "a surprise" if he was himself appointed as "Europe's first voice," Mr Juncker added, alluding to the fact Mr Blair did little to bring the UK closer to Europe on issues such as the single currency.

Snubbed by Mr Sarkozy for having allegedly done too little during the financial crisis, Mr Juncker's own bid for the EU top job is unlikely to fly, however.

Even within Conservative circles, there is a feeling that Mr Blair is "too big to fail" and that he would not have let his name have go forward unless he had assurances to secure the post.

Meanwhile, another potential candidate for the president post, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, is out of the running after Dutch European minister Frans Timmermans said on Sunday The Hague will not put forward a nominee.

Foreign minister

Meanwhile, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner has signalled he would be interested in another plum job to be created under the Lisbon Treaty: the post of EU "foreign minister" and European Commission vice president.

The Elysee itself is not giving Mr Kouchner a clear run at the post, with French EU affairs minister Pierre Lellouche over the weekend floating two other names, Hubert Vedrine and Michel Barnier.

Mr Vedrine was foreign minister under President Francois Mitterand and a staunch opponent of the war in Iraq. Mr Barnier is a former EU commissioner and now an MEP.

Germany is also eyeing the foreign minister job for its current interior minister, Wolfgang Schauble, according to The Times. The German press says he is unwilling to leave the country however, with German centre-right MEP Elmar Brok is aiming at a high-level EU commission portfolio instead.

Germany's outgoing foreign minister, Frank Walter Steinmeier, is unlikely to go forward because he is damaged goods after a severe election defeat and because he is seen as too pro-Russian by former Communist EU states.

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt is seen as too anti-Russian and too young by some EU officials, while Paris and Berlin have some reserves about his pro-Turkey Stance. Moreover, a Danish appointment as head of Nato has already used up the Nordic countries' quota of top appointments.

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