Blair’s elected EU President plan not as far-fetched as it sounds

Left Foot Forward's Ben Fox reports from Brussels on former prime minister Tony Blair's plans for a European Union President.

Yet again, an interview (£) with Tony Blair has generated thousands of column inches. It’s difficult to know whether or not his comments about the need for an elected European Union President have been seriously thought through, but they are striking for a number of reasons.

As prime minister, Blair often talked like a European federalist but only when he was outside Britain; out of office, he clearly feels comfortable to engage in some European ‘blue skies thinking’.

Arguably the most significant point made by Blair is the deeper European integration he talks about. While the EU already has a single market and a common foreign, security and defence policy (but only when all Member States agree), a single immigration policy and co-ordinated tax policy would be a big leap forward. No other leading British politician, except for Roy Jenkins, has spoken so boldly about deeper integration.

As Diane Abbott – who is, unsurprisingly, not a fan of Blair’s idea – points out, it is quite clear that Blair has himself in mind as the ideal candidate to be the first elected President of Europe. In this regard it’s worth remembering that when the Lisbon Treaty was adopted, Blair lobbied for the newly created position of President of the European Council.

He didn’t get the job largely because he was (and remains) too controversial, and also because the leaders of the likes of Germany, France and the UK did not want to be upstaged diplomatically on the world stage. Had Blair got the job it is clear that he would have wanted to do precisely that.

The idea of a directly elected EU President is a pipe-dream at the moment. Although it is unclear whether Blair’s EU President would replace the positions of President of the European Commission or of the European Council, or simply be yet another EU President, there is no doubt that what he envisages would need a treaty change. Given that it is less than two years since the Lisbon Treaty was ratified this is clearly not going to happen any time soon.

Indeed, at a time when the EU is battling to contain the sovereign debt crisis which threatens to bring down the eurozone and, potentially, many leading banks with high government debt exposure with it, the last thing people want is another treaty – but Blair is not the only high-profile politician to have raised the idea of deeper European integration in the past week.

Last Thursday, Jean-Claude Trichet, President of the European Central Bank, made a speech in which he talked about the future creation of an EU Finance Ministry. Although President Trichet did not focus on tax raising powers, he described a ministry that would have direct responsibility for surveying taxation and competitiveness policy; the implementation of EU financial sector regulation; represent the EU at the likes of the G20 and IMF; and a potential veto power over a country’s spending policies.

Just like Blair’s pronouncements, Trichet’s remarks were immediately shot down by political leaders. However, some of the elements of such an institution already exist or are being built. Earlier this year the European Parliament demanded legislation for an EU financial transactions tax on the back of a large pan-European campaign and proposals are expected within the coming months.

The legislation for a beefed-up economic governance package for the eurozone is currently being negotiated by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, and it is likely to include measures that impact on labour policy and competitiveness, as well as on macro-economic policy.

The integration of financial markets in Europe means that virtually all of the big financial sector legislation is decided at EU level. Meanwhile, we might scoff at the idea of a veto over a nation’s public spending, but that is essentially what is happening to Greece, Ireland and Portugal under the terms of their emergency loans and guarantees.

In this context, Trichet’s proposal for a finance ministry at EU level doesn’t seem like ‘pie in the sky’ but more like a logical next step for an economic bloc that has a single market and a common currency. In fact, it is as logical as Blair’s insistence that if the EU speaks with a number of different voices then it will lack authority on the world stage both diplomatically and economically.

However, as Diane Abbott notes, these ideas are being generated by high-level politicians not by a groundswell of grassroots campaigners and public opinion. Most opinion polls actually indicate the EU is as unpopular as it has been in a long time with a general desire for less rather than more integration.

What the speeches by Blair and Trichet demonstrate is the need for honest and detailed debates across European countries about the EU’s role and future. While both Blair and Trichet freely conceded their proposals are not going to happen quickly, they will both have to be addressed at some point in the coming years. Without such debate European integration will probably continue in the fragmented and flawed way that it has done in the past decade.

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14 Responses to “Blair’s elected EU President plan not as far-fetched as it sounds”

  1. Liz K

    Blair's elected EU President plan not as far-fetched as it sounds: writes Ben Fox from Brussels

  2. Eddy Anderson

    Blair's elected EU President plan not as far-fetched as it sounds: writes Ben Fox from Brussels

  3. In Europe

    Daily MailBlair's elected EU President plan not as far-fetched as it soundsLeft Foot ForwardIt's difficult to kn…

  4. Democratic Society

    Noted: Blair’s elected EU President plan not as far-fetched as it sounds

  5. DrKMJ

    RT @leftfootfwd: Blair's elected EU President plan not as far-fetched as it sounds: writes Ben Fox from Brussels

  6. NervanaM

    RT @leftfootfwd: #Blair's elected EU President plan not as far-fetched as it sounds

  7. David Ellis

    `The idea of a directly elected EU President is a pipe-dream at the moment.’

    And hopefully it will always remain a pipe dream. The EU doesn’t need some megalomaniac elected by 350 million people. Nobody does.

  8. Selohesra

    Is it possible that this potential President could also be behind leaking Balls papers?

  9. Lionel

    Diane Abbott article take the kind of left-nationalist stance which reveals some glaring intellectual inconsistency.

    Anyway, an EU president may happen without a treaty change. Some European parties are discussing choosing a candidate for the 2014 European elections before the campaign. In case of success the party would request for this candidate to become the President of the Commission. If big parties like the Party of European Socialists and the European People Party (right) chose to present one candidate, the winner will hold his/her position with the legitimacy of the election and become de facto like a European PM (instead of being nominated by EU heads of States).

    This would be a major step toward a European President/PM without any treaty change. Then merging the position of President of the Commission and President of the Council could also happen in the medium term without treaty change. It was suggested by the commissioner Barnier in May. In such a scenario, we would have de facto one European President, elected by the Europeans.

    Is it impossible to elect a president for 350 millions people, as Abbott claims? Well if Abbott was not so short sighted she would have remembered that the USA are doing so with 308 millions so clearly the number is unlikely to be a problem.

    Is it desirable? Well in Eurobarometers surveys most Europeans want more integration. In the last one with numbers on this issue, 63% of citizens in the EU want foreign and defense policies to be taken at the European level (35% against). Admittedly, it is something hard to believe in the British media bubble (though not for Continental Europeans who are on the contrary shocked by the coverage of European issues in the British media when they cross the Channel). For hard numbers check questions QA20.3 and QA22.1-QA22.5 from

    British citizens are an exception in Europe. Fair enough. If they don’t want to push further in the European project, they should be free to stay on the fringes, but clearly they should not request to stay in the core of the EU to veto the integration most of its citizens approve.

  10. Anon E Mouse

    Blair for EU president? If this happens then the coalition are going to walk the next election. Why they didn’t want Brown for the IMF job is beyond me – any memory of Brown would have done their work for them.

    I liked Tony Blair and was pleased he reminded us yesterday that he was the only Labour PM not to be voted out of office. That is in stark contrast to Gordon Brown who wasn’t even elected as Labour leader or obviously PM.

    Tony Blair for European president?

    As a fan of this government I say YES PLEASE.

    Mind you with the stuff about the disloyal tactics used by Brown, Milliband, Balls and Alexander, despite their denials at the time, things are only going to get worse for the hapless Labour leader in the short term at least,,,

  11. Ed's Talking Balls

    Terrible, terrible idea.

    Incidentally, if there was going to be an article on LFF about Tony Blair, I would have expected it to be about Balls’ and Miliband’s proven, devious scheming. Now that’s a story.

  12. John Jackson

    “Tony Blair for European president? AS A FAN OF THIS GOVERNMENT (!!!??? – my emphasis) I say YES PLEASE.”
    Comment by Anon E Mouse on June 10, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Anon E Mouse – Thank you for finally running your TRUE political colours up the flagpole for all to see !!

    In posting on a previous thread (‘Another day, another Tory council planning to charge kids to play’) on this forum, you stated: “I was a Labour voter my whole life until Gordon Brown was forced on the party after being promised a ‘full third term’ of Mr Blair.”

    Frankly, given certain of your responses to the issue being discussed in that article – most particularly: “So a few kids can’t play in a park? Boo hoo” – I had my doubts not only as to your true political allegiance, but also as to your actual motives in posting on this forum.

    Thankfully, your latest declaration of allegiance to the Con-Dem cause has cleared up any possible doubt that might have remained in the minds of those unfortunate enough to have chanced upon your rhetoric.

    You are obviously a Tory ‘troll’ looking to stir up mischief and we can therefore clearly discount any future utterances from your good-self accordingly.

    As I stated in MY response to your posting on that earlier article: “you are certainly no loss to the Labour Party – or indeed any social democratic movement – in fact, some would add, Good Riddance !!

    And good riddance also to Mr TORY B.LIAR and the rest of his neo-con progeny, including the boy David, aka: ‘THE TORTURERS APPRENTICE’ !!

  13. John Jackson

    Anon E Mouse – Incidentally, I wonder if you would care to be specific about your reason(s) for being such a, self-confessed, “fan of this government” ?

    Is it perhaps as a consequence of their IDEOLOGICAL CHOICE to starve the public services of funding ?

    Could it be because you actually support the continued privatisation of the NHS (shamefully begun by the previous ‘New’ Labour administration which was led, at the time, by a neo-con, war-mongering Thatcherite Tory: Mr B.Liar) ?

    Could it be because of their IDEOLOGICALLY DRIVEN decision to cast hundreds of thousands of people out of work ?

    Or, perhaps you are merely supportive of their apparent unwillingness to implement an equitable system of taxation which would prevent extremely rich people, like George Osborne, avoiding responsibility for paying their fair share of taxes (another area of injustice shamefully neglected by ‘NEW’ Labour) ?

    Whatever the reason for your gushing devotion, I feel sure that I cannot be the only Democratic Socialist who would be interested to know exactly how much Tory propaganda you have swallowed !!

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