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Blair for President?

Gavin Hewitt | 12:55 UK time, Friday, 2 October 2009

Tony BlairDublin: Within Europe's political corridors Tony Blair is emerging as the clear favourite to be the EU's first President.

The post is created under the Lisbon Treaty. The President will be a full-time official chosen by Europe's leaders - to chair summits and be the international face of the European Union.

If the Irish vote "Yes" to Lisbon another key milestone will be passed in ratifying the treaty. We'll know tomorrow.

Tony Blair is not a candidate, but there's a growing assumption that he's the front-runner. As one senior official put it, "he's interested in the job without campaigning for it". He has not moved to take himself out of consideration.

Working in his favour is his profile. He's far better known than any potential rivals. He was the first European politician to meet President Obama in the White House. Working
against him is his role over the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the fear amongst some officials that he's such a big beast he will drown out their influence.

Some say, however, that if his candidacy became too controversial Blair may resist his name going forward.

At the moment he seems to have the support of President Sarkozy of France. Germany's Angela Merkel is less enthusiastic but "persuadable". Berlusconi is an old friend. The new EU countries from Central and Eastern Europe are on-side. Blair had championed enlargement and their joining the EU. The northern European countries will probably raise no objection.

The main opposition comes from Socialist MEPs and to a certain extent centre-left governments like Spain. The issue for them is Iraq. Some hold Tony Blair responsible for going along with George Bush's war.

Now if the Irish vote "Yes" the pace quickens. The Swedes, who currently hold the EU presidency, are keen to move events forward, to mark their time in charge, to give an aura of inevitability that the Lisbon Treaty will be implemented. They would love to see posts like the President on the agenda for the EU summit at the end of October.

It all depends on the Czechs. They have not ratified the Lisbon Treaty and a new complaint has been filed with their constitutional court. A key calculation will be how long that process will go on for. It is even possible the EU summit could be delayed by a few weeks to allow the Czechs to sign the treaty.

In that event, Europe's leaders will vote on who will be the first President of the European Council. If it is Tony Blair then there is the intriguing possibility of a former Labour leader as President of the European Union with potentially a Conservative prime minister in Downing Street.


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