9th Dec 2019

'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. 30-day free trial.

... or join 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."


Russia makes big promises to Arctic peoples on expansion

The Arctic future conference kicked off with optimistic presentations by ministers and officials of the Russian government — but also a burst of scepticism from representatives of those actually living in Russia's Arctic and Far East regions.


UK election plus EU summit in focus This WEEK

EU leaders will try to agree on the 2050 emission-free target - but they will deeply disagree on EU spending over the next seven years. Meanwhile the UK will elect its new political leadership.

Migrants paying to get detained in Libyan centres

A trend has emerged over the past few months where desperate people are paying to get locked up in Libyan detention centres to escape the conflict and with the hope they stand a better chance of getting resettled to Europe.


Searching for solidarity in EU asylum policy

The European Parliament's civil liberties committee offers a snapshot of the European "state of mind", says its chair Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar. Its biggest challenge will be getting member states to unblock the EU asylum package.

News in Brief

  1. Greece denies access to fair asylum process, report says
  2. Report: Self-regulation of social media 'not working'
  3. Turkey: Greek expulsion of Libyan envoy 'outrageous'
  4. Merkel coalition may survive, says new SPD co-leader
  5. Von der Leyen Ethiopia visit a 'political statement'
  6. Over 5,500 scientists ask EU to protect freshwater life
  7. Iran defies EU and UN on ballistic missiles
  8. Committee of the Regions: bigger budget for Green Deal


UK election plus EU summit in focus This WEEK

EU leaders will try to agree on the 2050 emission-free target - but they will deeply disagree on EU spending over the next seven years. Meanwhile the UK will elect its new political leadership.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. Russia makes big promises to Arctic peoples on expansion
  2. UK election plus EU summit in focus This WEEK
  3. Migrants paying to get detained in Libyan centres
  4. Searching for solidarity in EU asylum policy
  5. Will Michel lead on lobbying transparency at Council?
  6. Blood from stone: What did British PR firm do for Malta?
  7. EU Commission defends Eurobarometer methodology
  8. Timmermans warns on cost of inaction on climate

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us