Blair favourite to be first EU president
By George Parker in London and Tony Barber in Dublin
Published: October 3 2009 03:00 | Last updated: October 3 2009 03:00
Gordon Brown spent this week fighting for his political life at the Labour party conference in Brighton. Meanwhile, the man whom he succeeded as Britain's prime minister - Tony Blair - may be about to enjoy a surprise renaissance.
"It's looking good for Tony," said one British cabinet minister. He believes the signals from the rest of Europe are that Mr Blair may be about to become the first president of the EU.
The votes have to be counted in Ireland first, and the Czechs and Poles have yet to ratify, but the EU could start considering who will be its new president at a summit in Brussels at the end of the month.
Mr Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, have both canvassed support for Mr Blair.
A number of smaller or medium-sized countries, including Sweden, which holds the EU's current rotating presidency, have strong reservations about whether a former leader of a big country should take the role, while some leaders will not forgive Mr Blair for his part in the Iraq war.
But the biggest potential block could be Angela Merkel, German chancellor, who has previously indicated that she could not countenance Mr Blair as EU president.
Her position - and that of other leaders - may not become clear until nearer the EU summit on October 29-30. Front-runners in such contests seldom win and compromise candidates can emerge at the last minute.
Also a consideration is that another new role - EU foreign minister - is being earmarked by some national capitals for a centre-left politician, suggesting the president should come from the centre-right. Questions would arise over where exactly Mr Blair sits on the political spectrum.
Mr Blair, who has made millions of pounds from public speaking and consultancy work since 2007, is said to be ready for a return to the political frontline.
The creation of the role of president of the EU council - chairing summits and representing the will of the 27 member states - is something he has championed since 2002. Indeed it was one of his few common points of agreement with Jacques Chirac, former French president.
The idea of "President Blair" arriving in Downing Street to greet Mr Brown is certainly an intriguing one.