Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Beware the Blair Who Seeks to Rule All Europe; You Might Have Thought We Got Rid of Tony Two Years Ago but the Czechs Have Given Him a New Lease of Life

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Beware the Blair Who Seeks to Rule All Europe; You Might Have Thought We Got Rid of Tony Two Years Ago but the Czechs Have Given Him a New Lease of Life

Article excerpt

Byline: Matthew d'Ancona

WHAt is the French for "things Can Only Get Better"? Something, I suppose, along the lines of: "Les Choses Ne peuvent Que S'ameliorer." Well, we will find out soon enough, when tony Blair makes official his private campaign to be the first president of europe and the New Labour soundbite machine goes into continental overdrive. Brace yourself for a paneuropean festival of Nineties Blairite retro: we shall doubtless hear a lot about "la main de l'histoire" settling on the former prime Minister's shoulder and his conviction that he would indeed be "le president du peuple".

If the very thought makes you shudder -- didn't we get rid of him more than two years ago? -- then blame Vaclav Klaus. Over the weekend, the Czech president removed the last obstacle to the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, conceding that, for all his doubts about the repackaged eu constitution, "the train has already travelled so fast and so far that I guess it will not be possible to stop it or turn it around, however much we would wish to".

And thus, with a Bohemian whimper, does it become inevitable that Lisbon will come into force across the eu's 27 member states, and with it the new european presidency that Blair covets.

the discussion of candidates is expected to begin at a Brussels summit in two weeks' time. the former prime Minister is by no means a shoo-in, and Angela Merkel is only the most powerful head of government to have equivocal feelings about his candidacy. that said, he is still the runaway favourite in a relatively undistinguished field -- ahead of Jan peter Balkenende, the Dutch prime minister, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg.

unlike his successor in Number ten, Blair is reasonably impervious to criticism.

But he will have been stung by the opinion of his former chief adviser on the eu, Sir Stephen Wall, that having someone like him as europe's president was "not necessarily a very good idea." Better, added Sir Stephen, that the first occupant of the new office should be from a smaller member state: "I think that it would help a lot as a signal. As a unifying signal, it should be thought about."

Certainly, Blair's election would be intrinsically divisive. the co-author of the liberation of Iraq has not been forgiven by Old europe, and is still widely scorned on the Continent as a neo-con poodle and ally of the despised George W Bush.

the structure of the electoral college -- 27 states with weighted votes -- is such that the winning candidate will be the product of compromise rather than enthusiasm. As the gulf between political elites and electorates grows wider across recession-torn europe, it is a very strange way to choose the most senior political representative of the eu. …

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