Kicking Blair Upstairs

by Henry Farrell on July 16, 2009

So is Tony Blair officially in the running to become President of the Council of member states of the European Union (a new job, that might or might not be quite powerful, depending on who gets it, that will come into being if the Lisbon Treaty passes)? The Financial Times “says yes”:,dwp_uuid=70662e7c-3027-11da-ba9f-00000e2511c8.html

bq. Tony Blair was announced on Wednesday as Britain’s official candidate to become the European Union’s new president, even though Britain’s former prime minister has not confirmed he wants the job and the post has yet to be created. Lady Kinnock, Britain’s newly appointed Europe minister, surprised Downing St and Mr Blair when she declared: “The UK government is supporting Tony Blair’s candidature for president of the council.”

“Gideon Rachman”: questions whether there is anything in it for Gordon Brown.

bq. Given their longstanding rivalry, it is slightly surprising that Gordon Brown has openly backed Tony Blair to be the first ever President of the EU. (Technically speaking, president of the European Council, a job that will come into being, if and when the Lisbon Treaty is finally ratified later this year.) I cannot imagine that Brown would really relish greeting Blair back to Downing Street as “president of Europe”. So why has he done it?

And the Economist’s _Charlemagne_ suggests that it “was all a big mistake”:

Lady Kinnock, who is a very new minister, after years as an MEP, basically messed up. She was asked about Tony Blair as a possible candidate for the new presidential job, and bafflingly, this question took her by surprise. She meant to be enthusiastic, but went too far. So when she said that:

“The UK government is supporting Tony Blair’s candidature for president of the council”

that did not mean that there is a Blair candidacy, and the British government is working behind the scenes to lobby for him. What she meant was, if Tony Blair were to become the candidate, then logically enough the Labour government would lobby for him. I do not think I am being spun here. I am told that senior British officials believed, to quote one source, that Lady Kinnock “fucked up” in the way she phrased this, and that makes sense to me. The British political and diplomatic machine would like Mr Blair to be the first president, obviously because he is one of theirs, but also because he represents the basic package of support for free trade, support for the Atlantic alliance and hostility to a European superstate that Britain would want from this job, which essentially replaces the current role played by prime ministers of countries holding the rotating presidency. But it is not something anyone wanted to rush into now. For one thing, frontrunners almost never get the big jobs in Europe. For another, it is hard to see why Mr Blair would want to put himself forwards for a job he was not very likely to get, interrupting his well-paid semi-retirement with a blast of global humiliation.

My money is on Charlemagne’s interpretation here – it sounds distressingly plausible. That said, now that Britain has ‘endorsed’ Blair as EU president, I imagine it will have to actually endorse him and publicly campaign for him too (unlessBlair immediately makes a public statement to the effect that he has no interest in the job). Even when statements like this are the result of inexperienced politicians ‘fucking up,’ they are hard to disown. Furthermore, if Blair were to get the job, I suspect that Charlemagne is wrong on the transatlantic values stuff – politicians are notorious for cutting their ideological cloth to suit the measure of their office, and I would not at all be surprised if Blair turned out to be a lot keener on European integration as soon as he assumed his new role. Which isn’t to pass any judgment on whether he would be a good president of the EU or not. My immediate instinct would be to say that he would make a better fist of it than the other plausible candidates I’m aware of, but then I was cautiously optimistic about Wolfowitz becoming president of the World Bank back in the day, and we all know how that turned out.



mart 07.16.09 at 3:44 pm

Wasn’t Blair always thought to be pretty pro-EU, including on integration issues, but was held back by Brown and others in the Cabinet who were more eurosceptic? Who are the other plausible candidates for this post anyway?

Also, there’s some weird html by the FT link you might want to fix.


jeroen 07.16.09 at 4:08 pm

Oh no, not Blair, please. Anyone remembers he supported the invasion in Iraq (and all the lying to the British public related to that)? Nowadays he is the Middle East envoy of the United Nations – has been a great success as well.

I propose to give the job to Barroso (and fire him as president of the EC), he’s a toy dog of the Member States anyway. Then we can perhaps finally get a good president of the European Commission.


Tim Wilkinson 07.16.09 at 4:43 pm

Comment deleted at request of author


Thabo 07.16.09 at 5:17 pm

Integrity is an important component that is required, not spin doctoring at its’ best.
From mistakes he refuses to acknowledge, such as Iraq to an overly USA ally policy, when the USA needed to hear cautions from its’ friends, he is not a good choice at all.
European countries will be wary of his closeness to Bush and fear being pushed into a US-UK ambush on policies.
I vote NO


P O'Neill 07.16.09 at 6:13 pm

God forbid that we have someone in a top level EU position who supported George Bush in invading Iraq.


bert 07.16.09 at 7:32 pm

Apparently if Barroso gets another term heading the Commission, Blair’s chances improve. This is because Barroso is a Christian Democrat, and so Blair will provide balance, being a European Social-ist.
Reminiscent of the way the RAI TV channels were shared out in Italy back in the day. But with the absurdity element cranked up another several notches.


Nur al-Cubicle 07.16.09 at 7:39 pm

Britain’s EU Presidency was a big disappointment and much criticized. Based on that alone, I don’t believe there’s a chance for any British candidate. I suspect France and Germany are fearful that he might seriously push Turkish entry into the EU.

There’s that old joke about the Pope and sex, “he don’t play-a the game and he don’t make-a the rules”. Britain treats the EU at arm’s length and half the time pretends it’s not in it. A nice, tame Slovene fits the bill.


yabonn 07.16.09 at 8:18 pm

Blair’s support for Iraq is a bad point, but maybe not that important outside of the UK. Iraq is a smaller deal if you were not dragged in it, politicians make mistakes, etc.


Paddy Matthews 07.16.09 at 10:03 pm

if the Lisbon Treaty passes

That “if” is a good deal bigger today than it was yesterday.


Henry 07.17.09 at 2:35 am

You’re referring to the Bord Snip report, I’m presuming …


Paddy Matthews 07.17.09 at 11:23 am



Alex 07.17.09 at 11:45 am

William Hague was complaining yesterday that the real danger was that Blair would be too effective.


bert 07.17.09 at 12:38 pm

… following the logic set out later on in the Charlemagne post.
Is Jacques Santer available?


James C 07.17.09 at 9:33 pm

Blair seems incredibly unlikely to get it. I wonder is Prodi a possibility? Meets the centre-centre-left and “knows EU” criteria.


Idiot/Savant 07.17.09 at 11:59 pm

Meanwhile the Stop Blair petition has over 30,000 signatures…


Tim Wilkinson 07.18.09 at 7:50 pm

Re: #3 – Conspiracy theory about Roman Catholics? I can’t remeber the exact terms, but the point was based on the fact that Blair is very lucky to be allowed to call himself RC given his unrepentant violation of just war doctrine, let alone his attitudes to contraception and abortion (which being a socially-liberal atheist – relative to Abrahamic conceptions of God – I don’t disagree with – though, like most moral philosophers, I don’t consider abortion to be unproblematic by any means.)

Cook, yes – though a less tendentious description would be ‘covert action hypothesis’, and it seems pretty odd to me that such programmatic and non-defamatory remarks should be censored. I suppose I’d better save the text of this comment for reference.

Still, I’m grateful at least for your flagging and explaining said (proprietorially entitled) censorship, instead of going for consignment to the memory hole.

(and if this makes the cut; re: #8 – Iraq is rather important I’d say from any perspective – even a European realpolitik pov – after all, no-one bar the most abjectly bulliable states were ‘dragged in ‘.)


guthrie 07.19.09 at 12:10 pm

Wait a minute, wasn’t this widely predicted when Blair stepped down, and indeed I am sure I recall people saying this was what Blair was aiming at whilst he was still prime minister?
Is it my imagination or is politics quite predictable these days?


Mutimba Mazwi 07.20.09 at 9:17 am

I would also go for Blair; I know Jacques Chirac would say yes to Blair taking up the EU presidency.

Does G. Brown have anything in it? Of course, after the MPs scandal, Gordon Brown wants someone who understands spin and Europe to boost his popularity rankings.


mart 07.20.09 at 12:48 pm

I know Jacques Chirac would say yes to Blair taking up the EU presidency.
1) I very much doubt he would; 2) He’s no longer in any position to do anything about it.

Gordon Brown wants someone who understands spin and Europe to boost his popularity rankings.
I’m not sure anyone is able to rescue those ratings, and I really don’t see how Europe factors into that. Anyway, he has First Lord of the Galactic Imperium Mandy to look after the spin for him.

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