My instinctive reaction to Blair becoming the first European President is to hate the idea. After all, we’ve only just got a rid of him as our Prime Minister and if he immediately re-appears as the President of Europe, due to some deal done with other countries, it will do far more damage to the reputation of the European Union within the UK than anything else that has happened before. But it isn’t just that. A large part of it is that he took us to an illegal war in Iraq, so to then be ‘rewarded’ by giving him another powerful job just doesn’t seem right. Although whilst on this subject, we shouldn’t forget that the other front runner – former Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende – was also in favour of the war. He also appears to have too many fingers in too many other pies at the moment, and with the government that he used to lead still in power, (albeit with a different Prime Minister), it would make him far too close to the government of one country.
But when I think about it, he might actually do the job well. Whilst his time as Prime Minister didn’t exactly show him as someone who takes the lead on European issues, if he was freed from the need to win over the voters of the UK, he might actually be quite bold. He has been more than happy to shake up the constitution of the UK and so may not be afraid of doing this in the European Union, and as a result actually do some things that would be welcomed by many people in the UK and the rest of Europe, whether pro-European or Eurosceptic. Appointing Blair, as opposed to a nonentity that no one else has heard of, might actually make sure the job is one that people sit up and take notice of and as a result make sure that the president is someone who is listened to around the world. Whilst opinion will be divided on what he has to say, that is surely a good thing. Balkenende, for all his probable merits, won’t achieve that for some time. Blair is also a very good communicator and he usually comes in to his own when difficult political decisions have to be taken as this is usually when he comes in to his own and performs very well. He would also work well with people throughout the political spectrum.
Nick Clegg has proposed Chris Patten or Paddy Ashdown, both of whom would probably do the job well and Paddy will be known by some people around Europe due to his role in Bosnia Herzegovina. One early suggestion, although she has since said she doesn’t want to be nominated, was Mary Robinson. Although I don’t know her views on Europe, I can see some merits to her having the job. After all, she is from a smaller European country, she was quite an outspoken yet popular politician in her own country, and she will be known in government circles for her position as a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. But from a UK perspective, an English speaking president would also appeal to the general public more readily.
The big problem is that the decision comes down to wheeling and dealing between the different national leaders. If we are to have the post of European President, (and obviously that is a whole other issue that is worthy of a post of its own), then I would far rather the decision was made more openly and with people judged on their individual merits rather than a bland choice that is acceptable to the majority. That after all is just what happens with the current choice for President of the European Commission. Either it should be a direct election by the voters of Europe or it should be a vote by the European Parliament. With that, the decision would be based on the ideology and beliefs of the candidate, (and their view on the future direction of Europe and the things over which the EU has responsibility), their personal qualities and capabilities, rather than the lowest common denominator, and it would be open for people to see.