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”.