Tag Archives: High Representative for Foreign Affairs

Crunch Day for Europe President

This is it.  All will be decided later today or perhaps tomorrow if the deliberations in the European Council of Ministers about the position of President of the Council and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs continue late into the next day.  We are already hearing stories about participants taking one, two or even three shirts to see them through.  (They are almost all men – hence the shirt question).

Well, will our very own TB make it?  Tony’s chances do seem to have revived during the past two days, but whether he can overcome the “small country” challenge is still not certain.  Some of the tiniest EU states don’t want a large country holding the post as they fear this will smother them.  So we are now seeing an attempt at a classic EU fudge – find the lowest common denominator and go with that regardless of whether or not that is the best and most effective decision for Europe as a whole.

This mindset has led to Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy emerging as the front-runner.  I hardly think Belgium is a shining example of how to run a country.  A population of about 10 million is split into two linguistic groups with three federal regions, a system which is so unworkable that Belgium was recently without a federal government for nearly two years as the various parties were unable to agree on a coalition.

The other two small countries who are realistic contenders aren’t much better.  Peter Balkenende from Holland verges on the Thatcherite.  Luxembourg has, as ever, staked its claim.  Yet can anyone take Jean-Claude Junker seriously when the entire population of Luxembourg is only 488,000.  Yes 488,000 compared to over 60 million in the UK and Germany’s 82.5 million.  I am tempted to use that dreadful Americanism – “give us a break!”

There are two other factors working against our Tony.  Most importantly, the Socialists do not have a majority in the European Council.  The system of qualified majority voting used gives that to the EPP.  Moreover, the Socialist governments do not always all vote the same way.  Just to muddy the waters further, the Socialist and Democrat Group in the European Parliament has waged a strong campaign, which some Socialist governments have bought in to, that the Socialists should let the EPP have the President while the Socialists make a concerted bid for the High Representative.

The small country and/or EPP bid for the President position may well be the way it goes today.  I understand that there is everything to play for, and unusually in the EU the result has not been fixed in advance.  Since the Socialists are going for the High Representative, could this be what Tony ends up with?  I gather he may not be averse to the idea.  The job will, after all, be to act as the face of the EU across the whole globe and the post holder will also control the world-wide network of EU missions (embassies).

Crunch time indeed.

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Tony Blair divides the Socialists again

Blair EU

I have just come from a meeting of the European Parliament Socialists and Democrats (S & D) Group – the one which used to be called the Party of European Socialists – and I am incandescent with rage.  The rage is again on behalf of Tony Blair and Britain, one of the minority of countries in the European Union to have a government from the same political family as the S & D Group.

 It is, inevitably at present, about the soon to be established post of President of the European Council of Ministers.  The S & D Group as a whole have, it must be said, shown no support for the Blair bid, and more of that later.  My ire is more against the two S & D MEPs who tabled an anti-Blair Written Declaration (similar to an Early Day Motion) in the Parliament.

They know who they are, but for the record I am talking about Robert Goebbels from Luxembourg and German Jo Leinen.  (A Written Declaration needs five signatures – the other three were from other political groups).

 The Written Declaration is particularly damning, asking that the new President be a figure with whom all the people of Europe can identify and whether he/she has displayed the ability to move the EU forward.  It also states the “figure” must come from a country in the Euro and the Schengen Agreement and be from a country which does not refuse to apply the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

It doesn’t take much to work out that the “figure” is our very own TB.  The attack on Tony continued in the S & D Group meeting when one of the proposers of the Written Declaration made it clear he didn’t think Socialists could support Blair due to Tony’s lack of solidarity with other socialists over the Iraq war as well as his attending the French UMP conference just before the Presidential election in France and Blair’s closeness to Berlusconi.

 Tony Blair was the most successful Labour Prime Minister Britain has ever had, winning three election victories, bringing peace to Northern Ireland and improving health and education beyond all expectations.  It is high time European socialist “colleagues” buried their petty jealousies and did what is best for the S & D Group and best for Europe by not continually carping about one of Europe’s most influential leaders, who also happens to be one of us.

Back to the Blair bid itself as opposed to personal animosity.  The S & D Group together with the heads of government in those countries with socialist governments, wrongly in my view, decided to go for the Socialists holding the new position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs, a post which straddles both Council and Commission with the post holder also being Vice-President of the Commission.  The thinking was that the EPP centre-right, who already have the President of the Commission in the form of Jose-Manuel Barroso, will probably get the Council President as well. Given this, the Socialists should have the next bite of the cherry, namely the High Representative.

 This is how David Miliband came to be approached to be High Representative, rather late in the day. Sadly he declined, all but ending British hopes.  EU horse trading has won the day again, showing the worst side of what happens here.  I am tempted to ask, when will they ever learn?  Deals done behind closed doors do not inspire confidence and cause a lot of harm.  Europe will never get closer to its people as long as EU leaders behave like some out of touch clique considering only their own narrow interests.

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I support Tony Blair for President (even though I was against the Iraq War)

Blair at the European Parliament

Now is the time, I believe, for all good men and women to stand up and be counted.  I believe Tony Blair is not only the right person to be the new President of the European Council, but the only possible choice.

 It all comes down to how we see the EU and where we want Europe to go in the future.  While I am not a European integrationist as far as domestic policy is concerned, I do believe the EU’s presence on the world stage needs to be strengthened.  The EU should be able to rise to what we may now call the “Obama challenge”, an idea first articulated by Henry Kissinger when he asked, “If I want to talk to Europe, who do I ring?” 

 The two new posts (a President of the European Council and a High Representative for Foreign Affairs, both to serve a minimum of two and a half years), to be created under the Lisbon Treaty will go some way towards answering this question.  Answering this question becomes ever more crucial as the years go by and both Europe and the world change.  Indeed, the environment in which Kissinger operated over thirty years ago is almost unrecognisable today.

 One of the ways to deal with the Kissinger question is, I believe, to have a strong and experienced President of the European Council, a charismatic leader who will be President Obama’s equal, a real player on the international stage.  In short, the EU needs a credible leader to execute its external relations policy. 

 Foreign affairs and defence have moved beyond the realm of individual nation states.  The EU itself now has a developed common security policy and speaks as one voice on very many external matters.  The only time in the recent past when this did not happen was the Iraq War when Britain went out on a limb with the United States.  I opposed the Iraq War all the way through, spoke against it in public and voted for the resolutions in the European Parliament condemning the war.

 I am not, therefore, a blind Blair loyalist.  But I do believe he is the man to be President of Europe.  He is also an ex-Labour Prime Minister, and hence our, the Labour, candidate.  I have never had much time for those Labour Party members who were against Blair because they viewed him as not “old Labour” and not left wing enough.  Tony Blair is Labour. End of story.

 Tony Blair’s record as Labour Prime Minister speaks for itself – the national minimum wage, Sure Start, extended maternity leave, paternity leave, a massive reduction in NHS waiting lists, a huge hospital building programme, a reduction in class sizes, peace in Northern Ireland, tripling overseas aid, establishing devolved government in Scotland and Wales and setting up the London Assembly, to name but a few.  You will all, I am sure, be able to add to this list.     

 Given that it is now almost certain that Czech Republic President Klaus will sign the Lisbon Treaty, it will probably come into force towards the end of November.  The EU therefore has less than two months to shape its future.  Let’s hope it takes the bold decision and appoints the man who once affirmed that “We are at our best when we are at our boldest”.

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