11th Jul 2020

'You got the Belgians running Europe?' Bush asked Blair

Ex-UK prime minister Tony Blair has burst back onto the media landscape in the UK after a three-year absence with the publication of his keenly awaited memoir in which he also reveals his regrets about the EU and other titbits such as former US President George Bush not recognising the Belgian prime minister at a G8 meeting.

Entitled "A Journey" and responsible for a media frenzy in the UK, the memoir chronicles much of his domestic political struggles but also his fateful decision to go to war in Iraq and his close relationship with Mr Bush, the instigator of the global war on terror.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Tony Blair would like to have become president of the European Council (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

It also dips into his unfulfilled relationship with Europe. When he came to power in 1997, Brussels was quick to note that he was the most pro-EU British leaders ever, leading to high hopes that he would take his country into the euro.

But he admits in his book that he could not sell the idea, lacking supporting in his cabinet and surrounded by an aggressive UK press.

"Unless it was economically plain that it would be good for Britain, it was simply not politically sellable," his book says, according to the Financial Times. "The political problem was the economics."

He hoped that the economics would change but by election year in 2001, this was still not the case: "They didn't and, for me, that was that."

A gifted speaker and still happy to talk about the EU in less equivocal tones than his predecessors, Mr Blair's speech before European Parliament in 2005, while Britain had the presidency of the Union, was greeted with feverish anticipation by MEPs at the time.

But although he hit all the right notes, he never delivered on what many saw was a promise to make the EU a less divisive political issue at home.

That and his continued loyalty to George Bush, unpopular in Europe for starting the Iraq war, eroded away his popularity on the continent. However, his closeness to Mr Bush gave him a few insights into the former president's thinking about Europe.

His book reveals that Mr Bush neither recognised former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt or knew what he was doing at a G8 meeting in 2001.

"He didn't know or recognise Guy, whose advice he listened to with considerable astonishment," Mr Blair writes. "He then turned to me and whispered, 'Who is this guy?' 'He is the prime minister of Belgium,' I said. "

Mr Bush then queried why he was there as Belgium is not part of the G8 leading Mr Blair to explain that he was currently EU president, under the rotating presidency system.

"You got the Belgians running Europe?" Mr Bush reportedly responded before shaking his head.

Mr Blair's 10-year term in office end in acrimony in 2007 when his long-term party rival Gordon Brown took over the reins.

EU president

But his name re-appeared in the news while the EU was deliberating on who should become president of the European Council, a post designed to give a Europe a global face at presidential level.

While some supported the idea of his getting the job as this would immediately raise the profile of the post, it eventually went to Herman Van Rompuy, a former Belgian prime minister.

In an interview with the BBC on Wednesday evening (1 September) Mr Blair, whose top responsibility today is as the Quartet's special envoy to the Middle East, revealed he would have like to have been nominated for the job and did not rule out further public service in the future.

"I would have taken the presidency of the European Union. I would have been delighted to do it and gone and done public service. And I may do a public service job again in the future."

Michel lays out compromise budget plan for summit

Ahead of expected tense discussions next weekend among EU leaders, European Council president Charles Michel tries to find common ground: the recovery package's size, and grants, would stay - but controls would be tougher.

Border pre-screening centres part of new EU migration pact

Michael Spindelegger, the former minister of foreign affairs of Austria and current director of the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), reveals some of the proposals in the European Commission's upcoming pact on migration and asylum.

EU 'failed to protect bees and pollinators', report finds

EU auditors concluded on Thursday that EU key policies adopted to protect and halt the decline of pollinators across the bloc have been largely inefficient and called on the European Commission to better address this issue.

MEPs give green light to road transport sector reform

MEPs adopted on Thursday the Mobility Package covering truck drivers' working conditions - rejecting amendments pushed by central and eastern member states. However, the European Commission warned that two new rules might be not align with the Green Deal.

News in Brief

  1. Citizens' perception of judicial independence drops
  2. Irish finance minister voted in as eurogroup president
  3. Italy's League party opens office near old communist HQ
  4. 'Significant divergences' remain in Brexit talks
  5. Germany identifies 32,000 right-wing extremists
  6. WHO to hold probe of global Covid-19 response
  7. China accuses Australia of 'gross interference' on Hong Kong
  8. EU to let Croatia, Bulgaria take first step to join euro


The opportunistic peace

This will be the most selfish act in recent economic history. It will burden future generations and by no means make the weakest member states better off.


On toppling statues

The internationally-acclaimed author of King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild, writes on Belgium's problems with statues, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. Michel lays out compromise budget plan for summit
  2. Border pre-screening centres part of new EU migration pact
  3. EU 'failed to protect bees and pollinators', report finds
  4. MEPs give green light to road transport sector reform
  5. If EU wants rule of law in China, it must help 'dissident' lawyers
  6. Five ideas to reshape 'Conference on Future of Europe'
  7. EU boosts pledges to relocate minors from Greece
  8. Hydrogen strategy criticised for relying on fossil fuel gas

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us