Countdown To The Euro: Blair voted the leading European

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR is the most important person in Europe, according to a survey by The Independent of some of the Continent's most powerful and influential people.

Somewhat surprisingly, given his failure to lead from the front in Europe, the Prime Minister is considered more influential than either Wim Duisenberg, head of the new European Central Bank, or Gerhard Schroder, the German Chancellor.

The survey also suggests that Mr Blair's influence should not be underestimated by either the French or Germans. Other European nationalities appear to see the Prime Minister as an effective counterbalance to their haste for European political integration. "He knocked some sense into Labour by his Third Way" said one of the judges, Hans Labohm, of the Netherlands Institute for International Relations.

The survey, thought to be the first of its kind, attracted replies from more than 200 government ministers, politicians, economists, industrialists, leading cultural figures, trade unionists and academics from the 15 countries of the European Union.

Overwhelmingly, the replies demonstrate that voters regard the politicians with the power to shape the Continent as its most important citizens.

Included in the top 10 are the Pope, the former German chancellor Helmut Kohl and Jacques Delors, former president of the European Commission who was described by John Monks, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, as "the most effective leader of the European Commission which became a highly creative secretariat".

They are followed by the German Finance Minister, Oskar Lafontaine; the French President, Jacques Chirac; the president of the Bundesbank, Hans Tietmeyer; and the Czech President, Vaclav Havel, who led the so-called "velvet revolution" in 1989. Swedish MEP Per Gahrton described him as "the only president who in office succeeded in preserving some of his dissident soul".

Lionel Jospin, the French Prime Minister, managed only 11th place, one ahead of the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, while joint Nobel Peace Prize winners John Hume and David Trimble from Northern Ireland came in at 13th.

Only three women made the top 25: Mary Robinson, the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, according to one judge "a fervent nationalist, highly respected", the European commissioner Emma Bonino and Gro Harlem Brundtland, director-general of the World Health Organisation.

Two Americans made the list - the world's most powerful man, President Bill Clinton and the most powerful industrialist, Bill Gates of Microsoft.

Not all nominees were industrialists or politicians. Artists, writers, musicians and sportspeople all featured on the fringes of "importance". The violinist Lord Menuhin took 25th place, edging out Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge seeking the extradition of the former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet. Anita Roddick, founder of Body Shop, placed the judge at number one. "He is making human rights the inescapable issue it must be," she said.

Using a weighted voting system, Mr Blair racked up 1,636 points, giving him a clear margin over his closest challenger Mr Duisenberg, with 1,580. Mr Schroder scored 1,182 points.

Leena Peltonen, Professor of Medical Genetics at the University of Helsinki, gave an insight into why so many found Mr Blair attractive. He is, she said: "The counterbalance to German politics".

But it was not only politicians and bankers whom our voters considered "important". Among the more exotic nominees were the footballers Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane, the author Salman Rushdie, the actress Juliette Binoche, Lara Croft, heroine of the computer game Tomb Raider, and the French techno band Daft Punk.

However, most entries which appeared at first sight to be frivolous were accompanied by lucid and rational explanations. For example, David Rock, President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and one of several who nominated Lara Croft in their top 10, wrote: "Ms Croft, the first virtual star, represents the future of the entertainments industry. One should not let her physical non-existence count against her."

And Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, nominated the transvestite comedian Eddie Izzard because: "His love for all things Euro could be infectious for a cynical UK public."

Catherine Deneuve, the actress, appeared to attract a large number of votes on purely sexist grounds. Rolf-Dieter Krause of WDR radio in Germany, voted for her "For showing that even women of [some] age can be most attractive."

Giulio Andreotti, the former Italian Prime Minister, had Georgio Armani at number two in his top 10, although he provided no explanation as to why.

Gordon McVeigh, of the Cancer Research Campaign, put makers of Viagra at number one and the creators of Dolly the cloned sheep at number two, while the Danish trade union leader Rune Norgaard put Bono of U2 at number nine and comedian Ruby Wax at 10.

Among the bad guys named were the Serb President Slobodan Milosevic, the French National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen and Marc Dutroux, the Belgian child murderer.

Others who received votes but fell outside the top 25 included Professor Stephen Hawking and Richard Branson.

Perhaps disappointingly, voting patterns sometimes lived up to national stereotypes. Many Germans, for example, concentrated on industrialists and politicians, while the French were more likely to include actors, artists and sportspeople among their nominees.

One child was nominated; Carl-Maurice Lafontaine, the baby son of Oskar Lafontaine, the German Finance Minister. He was chosen by Dr Christian Trippe of the German radio station Deutsche Welle, who wrote that Carl- Maurice was "the only person who can distract his father from destroying British lifestyle and eventually becoming German chancellor... "

The Independent wrote to opinion formers and policy makers in the 15 member countries of the European Union and the European Commission in Brussels, asking just one question: "Who in your opinion are the 10 most important people in Europe, ranked in order of importance?" After receiving 200 replies, we weighted the responses to reflect both the rankings and how often names appeared.

Research by Cathy Mayer, Ciar Byrne, Katherine Griffiths, Kerstin Fischer, Fernando Botera, James Cadman and Will Mandy.

Continent's Top 25

1. Tony Blair, British Prime Minister

2. Wim Duisenberg, head of new European Central Bank

3. Gerhard Schroder, German Chancellor

4. The Pope

5. Helmut Kohl, former German chancellor

6. Jacques Delors, former president of European Commission

7. Oskar Lafontaine, German Finance Minister

8. Jacques Chirac, French President

9= Hans Tietmeyer, President, Bundesbank

Vaclav Havel, Czech President, led "velvet revolution"

11. Lionel Jospin, French Prime Minister

12. Rupert Murdoch, media tycoon

13. Mary Robinson, UN Commissioner for Human Rights

14. John Hume/David Trimble, Nobel Peace Prize winners

15. Jacques Santer, President, European Commission

16. Mikhail Gorbachev, former Soviet president

17. Emma Bonino, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid

18. Bill Clinton, US President

19. Bill Gates, head of Microsoft

20. Umberto Eco, Italian author

21. Javier Solana, Secretary-General of Nato

22. Gro Harlem Brundtland, director-general, World Health Organisation

23. Jose Maria Aznar, Spanish Prime Minister

24. Jurgen Schrempp, head of DaimlerChrysler

25. Lord Menuhin, violinist

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