Wednesday, February 06, 2008

It was never going to happen

Despite the febrile excitement displayed on occasions by our provincial media, the chances of Tony Blair becoming president of the European Council are looking exceedingly meagre.

In a lengthy analysis piece by Paul Taylor, European affairs editor for Reuters that is the view expressed by "diplomats and politicians". The smart money in Brussels is on Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker, the centre-right chairman of finance ministers of the 15-nation eurozone. He is the compromise candidate who is likely to come through to take the crown.

Against Blair is the fact that he is too disconnected from the EU mainstream, and he remains too divisive a figure because of his enthusiastic support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq which split Europe in 2003. The wounds of that conflict run deep and have not been forgotten. Thus says an anonymous diplomat, "Tony Blair? Forget it."

Also against any British candidate is the stand-off position of the UK on the single currency and the Schengen zone. Blair is doubly handicapped by having negotiated "elaborate opt-outs" from the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights and police and judicial cooperation.

What got the media going, of course, was the apparent endorsement of Sarkozy, but people forget the French president is half Hungarian. He is playing his own games, and what better way to concentrate the minds of the "colleagues" than to put up a totally unsuitable candidate as a "stalking horse".

French commentators, on the other hand, are suggesting that Sarkozy's real aim in "endorsing" Blair was to upstage the Socialist opposition before municipal polls rather than commit Paris to backing Blair for the EU job, for which he has also dubbed Juncker (pictured) an obvious candidate.

Writes Paul Taylor, former French prime minister Edouard Balladur – who is close to Sarkozy - punctured the trial balloon a few days later, arguing in an article in Le Monde that Blair was too close to the United States, and Britain was too detached from Europe.

"Despite his declarations of good intentions, Mr Blair did nothing to put an end to this singularity in 10 years," Balladur says, adding that the president must represent an independent Europe. "How could Mr Blair embody that ambition credibly when in the disastrous Iraqi affair he always stood zealously at the side of the United States if he didn't goad them into it?"

Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president, has also joined the "Stop Blair" chorus, underlining Britain's absence from the central European economic project of the last decade - the euro.

And so the list of negatives goes on, making it crystal clear that Blair would never get the post, even if hell did freeze over. And that is what we always thought, and stand by that position. Only our absurdly parochial media ever thought he had a chance.

Still, that does not stop Neil Clark delivering a full-blown rant against Blair in Comment is free, proving yet again that Guardian writers have a slender grip on reality. Nor does it stop the launch of a petition against Blair's candidacy, which is about as much use as the referendum petitions ever were.

Nevertheless, before this particular farce plays out, there will be much extruded verbal material from the local media. It can be safely ignored as so much fluff.


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