Blair’s baggage maybe too bulky for EU presidency
- Branko Brkic
- 30 Oct 2009 07:57 (South Africa)
A few weeks ago, Tony Blair seemed to have a bead on the newest alpha dog job of first president of the EU under the Lisbon Treaty. In recent days, however, his chances have begun to flicker and dim. At the same time, the EU summit has become increasingly tangled in the question of how to apportion costs for climate change efforts.
Blair is not a formal candidate for the position – indeed the position does not yet exist formally since the treaty and its structures have not yet even come into force – but Blair’s star is already waning. Blair’s successor, the increasingly hapless Gordon Brown, has been trying to convince the governments of some of the EU’s smaller nations to support Blair, but many of them apparently do not want a powerful, charismatic figure like Tony Blair. Brown’s response was phlegmatic: “There will be other candidates, and people will be able to look at them. If you have the chance for that to happen, it is in Britain’s national interest. But of course it may not happen.” A ringing call to win, that.
Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg Finance Minister, pointing to Blair’s negative baggage, said there was “and will remain a link for the next generation between Iraq, Bush and Tony Blair. So it is not easy. The second point is that sometimes in politics you have to show that you can bring people together and not divide them. There I think are better candidates than Tony Blair.”
Seems even the leftist social democratic parties in charge of some EU governments are beginning to find Blair an unpalatable choice. Martin Schulz, chairman of the European Parliament’s socialist group, made it plain many other Continental socialists didn’t want the EU presidency to go to a Briton. And why was that? The UK is semi-detached from Europe, not in the euro area, and not in the Schengen zone permitting border-free travel around the EU, among other problems. And then there is that pesky issue of the English Channel...
Moreover, the socialists think they have a better chance of getting in one of their own people as the EU’s next foreign policy high representative than as the first full-time president. With 20 or so of the EU’s 27 governments controlled by the centre-right, they calculate that national leaders are bound to pick someone from their own political family for the EU presidency.
As a result, the UK’s foreign secretary, David Miliband, may end up being a potential candidate for that other new position -- EU foreign policy chief, if Blair does not win the president’s job. The Benelux countries and several Nordic nations, therefore, may end up punting a lower-key but senior good grey figure for the presidency. Possible candidates now include Jan Peter Balkenende, Jean-Claude Juncker and Fredrik Reinfeldt, the PMs of the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Sweden, respectively.
Meanwhile, EU governments found it difficult to come to an agreement on climate change issues, despite the fact there is less than a month and a half before international negotiations in Copenhagen for a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, and as the UN presses European nations to come forward with an actual figure for financing climate costs.
After a meeting with representatives from eight Eastern European EU members, Hungarian PM Gordan Bajnai said the current formula on who will finance climate change measures, and how, “is not acceptable to us.” Swedish representatives, meanwhile, have been pushing the newest proposal that contributions to combat global warming in the developing world should take into consideration the budget constraints of the less prosperous EU members in Central and Eastern Europe. Latest news is that the summit finally reached agreement on funding for climate change.