[DEBATE] : The wrong man for the EU job
Riaz K Tayob
riazt at iafrica.com
Tue Feb 12 17:43:23 GMT 2008
Opinion - News Analysis
The wrong man for the EU job
It needs a president who is a conciliator — not someone like Tony Blair.
— Photo: AP
Tony Blair… does he qualify?
For the moment, no haze of nostalgia hangs over Tony Blair. Three
election victories have vanished from memory — we only remember Iraq and
the snuggles with Bush. They, like his opponents of old, seem to have
little good to say about him. “War criminal” is about as polite as it
gets. Only luxuriously-paid jobs with international banks with more
money than sense bring a little financial sunshine to the Blair
Is this the guy we want to be first president of the European Council of
Nicolas Sarkozy seems to think so. Tony himself may or may not be
interested, which probably means he is. And though Blair’s successor
Gordon Brown may not be dithering, he sucks a baleful thumb. That
William Hague joke about Prezza Tone’s car sweeping into Downing Street
was a shaft too far.
Let’s be clear, however. It’s a terrible idea (though not for the usual
reasons evinced). You can overdo the hatred and hand-washings over
blunders past. Iraq has been a ghastly mess and George W. Bush a ghastly
commander-in-chief, but the big western nation that stood ostentatiously
to one side — France — now jostles to the head of the White House
From Sarajevo to Freetown, Blair isn’t always a dirty word. (And some
of our shrewder commentators note how Brown is quietly embracing his
domestic ideas, too.) There will, in time, be a better legacy.
But what would he bring to a role like this for a mere 30 months? The
eloquence of a supremely polished performer, the rush and gush of
supposed European passion, the ability to meet and greet whoever turns
up in the Oval Office next time. Outside these shores, he’s still a big
hitter, a name and grin winning instant recognition. Putting him into
bat first as the voice of 27 nation states would guarantee all a
hearing. And he, said to be ready to push aside that bank loot at the
drop of an invitation, thinks he has a lot left to say.
The difficulty, as he ought to know, is that this isn’t the job that he
helped negotiate. What’s needed is much more mundane than that. Just as
it’s stupidly wasteful to see the European parliament traipse wearily
from Strasbourg to Brussels and back, so it has become similarly
dispiriting to watch the torch of temporary leadership passed from hand
to hand 27 times.
There’s a huge disparity in the diplomatic resources available. (Just
compare Slovenia now with the clout of France coming next.) There’s also
an inevitable wambling of the agenda in a regional dance of special
interests, when some far bigger questions — say, immigration policy —
need consistent endeavour.
Thus the Lisbon treaty creates a chairman for two-and-a-half years who
can help keep the union (which means ministers from member states,
because that’s what the council is) focused on tasks and timetables for
This “presidency” is much the same as the present, perambulating
presidency, except that it doesn’t lose the plot in a suitcase somewhere
between Ljubljana and Paris. It is more like the Swiss system of
rotating prime ministers (and nobody outside Switzerland needs to
remember who’s PM anyway).
That’s the specification here, a rather non-grand spec for future
bureaucratic action. Must be proven administrator; will need
conciliation skills, stamina and extra helpings of humility; high public
profile not a handicap (when it comes to kicking Latvia or Slovakia
behind the arras) but tact and resilience valued above any other traits.
Is that Blair past or Blair present? Not remotely. He can’t be
self-effacing. His administrative legacy is a civil service that loses
as many laptops as plots. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008
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