18th Apr 2019

France no longer supports Blair for EU president

Paris is no longer supporting the idea of Tony Blair becoming the first president of the European Council, according to French and British media reports.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday (6 May) let it be known that instead of the UK former prime minister taking the post, he would prefer the job go to Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker.

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  • Tony Blair - out of the running for President of the European Council? (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

While Mr Juncker - a veteran of the EU stage - is favourite to take the president job, Jose Manuel Barroso is set to win a second term as head of the European Commission, according to Elysee sources quoted by French daily Le Figaro.

The two politicians are "largely favoured" said the sources. The UK Independent suggested that another variation could see Mr Barroso become EU president while Mr Juncker takes on the commission post.

Mr Sarkozy, who takes over the chair of the EU in July, had previously openly backed Mr Blair for the post, mentioning the idea in public himself last year.

However, he has since come under pressure from other capitals, notably Berlin, to rescind this support.

In addition French socialists are against the idea of Mr Blair having the post, as he is seen as coming from too eurosceptic a country that has not signed up to core EU policies, such as aspects of justice and home affairs.

Mr Rasmussen, the liberal Danish prime minister, is seen to have ruled himself out of speculation for the post because he is more interested in a NATO job.

The job description for the EU president still has to be defined. There are two opposing camps on the matter in Brussels. On the one side, there are those who think it should be a high-profile post with real political bite while the other side favours a low-profile more organisational post.

For his part, Mr Juncker has previously said it should not be simply be "an empty figurehead."

EU member states are set to decide both the person and the job description later this year.

Both Mr Juncker and Mr Barroso are from the same centre-right political family, meaning the third big post up for grabs - that of EU foreign minister - should go to a person from the socialists or the liberals.

But according to Le Figaro, Javier Solana, a Spanish socialist, and current EU foreign policy chief, is not favoured by Paris.

One aspect that could upset the behind-the-doors scheming is next year's European elections. The president of the commission has to be chosen in light of the results of the elections, meaning that the centre-right have to remain the dominant political family for the Paris-favoured scenario to have a chance of succeeding.

On top of this, London will have to be persuaded of the merits of Mr Juncker in the top post, as he is judged too federalist by Britain.

In 2004, the last time this round of posts came up for negotiation, Britain refused to accept former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt as commission president, then favoured by Paris and Berlin, resulting in the unexpected nomination of Mr Barroso.


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