UK calls for EU muscle
Suddenly it seems the British foreign secretary is everywhere. Interviews, articles, speeches. Today David Miliband put forward one of the most forceful cases for a stronger European foreign policy ever made by a British foreign secretary.
There is a context to all this activity. The final signature on the Lisbon Treaty is expected soon and the focus is shifting to the two top jobs it will create: the President of the European Council and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs.
Firstly - the role of President. The presumed favourite is Tony Blair. Gordon Brown came out today supporting his candidacy. Yesterday David Miliband said Europe needed a president who would stop the traffic in Beijing. Today, when I interviewed him, he said "this is a time when a strong European voice is needed more than ever. This is not a time for shy and retiring violets".
Later this week European leaders meeting in Brussels will begin discussing the two
jobs. They probably won't fill the posts, but they may define their powers. Europe is
divided over whether it wants a charismatic figure as president bestriding the globe or a business manager who chairs summits. If the latter, then Tony Blair will probably not put his name forward. David Miliband is firmly in the camp that says that Europe must have a big hitter to sit at the same table as the Americans and Chinese.
One of several potential hurdles is that Tony Blair will be the chief witness at the Chilcot inquiry into the war in Iraq. Today David Miliband dismissed that as a problem. "Tony Blair is a retired prime minister," he said. "He is not a threat to any party in this country."
It is not yet clear who Tony Blair has in his corner. Berlusconi certainly. Sarkozy blows hot and cold. Angela Merkel is the key and, as usual, she is difficult to read.
The word from Berlin is that she is uncertain about Blair but will not necessarily oppose him.
The second job is the High Representative for Foreign Affairs. This is a kind of EU
foreign minister with a diplomatic staff. Today David Miliband called for a more
assertive European foreign policy. He said it was in the British interest. To be frightened of a more powerful European voice in the world was "blinkered, fatalistic and wrong". Britain, he said, should embrace it, shape it and lead it. Otherwise, he said, Britain's influence in the world would wane.
He said the choice for the UK was simple. "We can lead a strong European foreign policy or - lost in hubris, nostalgia or xenophobia - watch our influence in the world wane." That was clearly a reference to the Tories.
The problem for David Miliband's vision is this. The stronger a role he sees for the
so-called European foreign minister the more his opponents will argue that he is making the case that the British people should have been consulted on the Lisbon Treaty.
In my interview today I asked him who would be more powerful - the British Foreign Secretary or the European foreign minister. He insisted that key decisions would still be taken in London and that a strengthened European voice would not replace British foreign policy, but enhance it.
One other point. David Miliband clearly feels the climate change talks ahead of the Copenhagen summit in December are in difficulty.