Wanted: New president of Europe

Tony Blair Image copyright PA

Wanted - a big hitter, someone who can speak for Europe but who needs to understand Britain.

Oh look! Here's Tony Blair who just happens to be giving a speech about - guess what? The EU.

This as the row intensifies about who should be the next president of the European Commission, days after many voters right across the Europe blew a raspberry in the direction of Brussels

Today, in a speech to the CBI, Mr Blair insisted: "The victories of UKIP in the UK and the National Front in France and the election of parties across the continent on explicitly 'anti-the-status-quo-in-Europe' platforms signify something... deep anxiety, distrust and alienation from the institutions and key philosophy of Europe."

'Too bossy'

Only last week Mr Blair met Germany's Chancellor Merkel to talk about the future of the EU. His office denies a report in the FT that he told her he wanted some sort of European role. He insists that he isn't angling for any job at all.

All this comes as the EU's 28 leaders are trying to agree who should replace Jose Manuel Barroso as the top Eurocrat in Brussels. The leading candidate is Jean Claude Juncker - who was prime minister of Luxembourg for almost 18 years - but is seen by David Cameron as too much a Brussels man.

Other possible candidates include Ireland's Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the straight-talking Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite. One other name being talked about by Number 10 is Frenchman Pascal Lamy -the former director-general of the World Trade Organization.

With the Tories facing a by-election challenge from UKIP this week the prime minister is talking up the need for the EU to change - as he did today on his fourth visit to Newark

Lesser job?

"We need a flexible, open, competitive Europe that respects nation states and realises the process of becoming too big, too bossy, too interfering has gone too far and needs to be rolled back... We need people running these organisations, whether it's the European Council or the European Commission, or indeed any other part of Europe, that get that."

On his last visit to Brussels Mr Cameron told Chancellor Merkel that Britain would move closer to leaving the EU if the wrong man got the top EU job. Today she said she wasn't indifferent to that danger but repeated that she was working to get the job for Mr Juncker.

Some think a deal might be done to allow Mr Juncker to take what is currently seen as the lesser job of president of the European Council - currently taken by Herman van Rompuy.

The most interesting thing Mr Blair argued today was that that body - the leaders of the EU's 28 countries - needed to agree a common agenda to reform Europe and to hand it down to the commission.

What's more, he said it should do it before any names were talked about for any of the jobs.

PS Tony Blair's allies insist he's not on manoeuvres but memories are long in Westminster of the last time he was talked of for a top job in Europe.

They remember the horror it could have caused the then occupant of Number 10, Gordon Brown which was so brilliantly captured by William Hague in one of the funniest speeches delivered in the Commons in recent times. Here it is:

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Media captionWilliam Hague mocked Tony Blair in 2008 over his alleged interest in the European presidency