24th Sep 2020

Sarkozy suggests Blair EU presidency problematic

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has indicated that British ex-prime minister Tony Blair may not be acceptable as a future president of the European Council because the UK remains outside the eurozone.

Mr Blair is most consistently mentioned as a contender for the post, which is contained in the Lisbon Treaty, a new institutional rule book the EU is hoping to soon put into force.

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  • Tony Blair - his name has been most mentioned from post of president of the European Council (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

But Mr Sarkozy, who originally brought Mr Blair's name into the discussion, now appears to be backing away from him.

When asked by French daily Le Figaro whether Mr Blair is a good candidate for the job, Mr Sarkozy said:

"It is too early to say. There will be a discussion on it. There are two ideas on this: Should there be a strong and charismatic president or a president who facilitates finding a consensus and who organises the work [of the European Council]

"Personally I believe in a Europe that is politically strong and embodied by a person. But the fact that Great Britain is not in the euro remains a problem."

Sixteen of the 27 member states are members of the eurozone. Mr Sarkozy does not elaborate on whether eurozone membership is a general consideration when the president of the European Council post comes up for a discussion.

Of the 11 countries not sharing the common currency, most are central and eastern European states, including Poland, as well as Denmark, Sweden and the UK.

The new presidency post is set to be agreed as part of a general package that includes the new EU foreign minister post, and the new line-up in the European Commission, whose mandate expires at the end of the month.

The new posts are part of the Lisbon Treaty which is awaiting final ratification in the Czech Republic before it can come into force across the European Union.

The posts contain overlapping functions and are expected to be defined by the first people who hold them. Mr Blair has been an apparent frontrunner for several months. His supporters say he will bring charisma and political strength to the job and give Europe a strong international face.

His detractors point to his support of the Iraq war, his relatively weak performance as Middle East envoy and the fact that he comes from a member state that does not take part in key EU policies.

Paris' apparent change of heart on the Blair candidacy as well as Berlin's lukewarm stance on the idea make it hard to see how the former British leader will get the post.

Mr Sarkozy also used the Le Figaro interview to threaten Czech president Vaclav Klaus, who is holding out against signing the Lisbon Treaty.

He called Mr Klaus' stance "unacceptable" adding "decision time is coming for him and it will not be without consequence. And whatever happens, this issue will be resolved by the end of the year."

Although there is exasperation in other capitals at Mr Klaus' stance, other leaders have been reluctant to openly criticise the Czech President for fear that he can make a play on Prague being isolated and bullied to bolster support among ordinary Czechs.

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