Could you really stomach Blair being EU president?

As Cherie admits to doubts about the decision to go to war with Iraq, Tony Blair's European support is beginning to falter
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The Independent Online

Many hold him responsible for "war crimes" in Iraq, while others think he is only interested in piling up a vast fortune from speaking engagements and property. But there are still some in Europe who believe Tony Blair should be anointed as the first President of the EU this month. Last week, Mr Blair was in Canada posing for pictures at £180 a time. On Friday, he attended the commemoration at St Paul's for the soldiers who died in the Iraq war. This Tuesday, he will face more raw anger from families of soldiers when the first independent and public inquiry into the war begins in London.

The former prime minister will come under the scrutiny of the Chilcot Inquiry into the six-year campaign as he lobbies for votes in Europe to be the EU's first president. To make matters worse, his wife Cherie yesterday said the Iraq war was a "51-49" decision, adding that Mr Blair had been very good at "convincing everybody else that it was a 70-30 decision".

As emotions continued to run high at home, doubts surfaced in mainland Europe that enough of the 27 member states would have the stomach to choose Mr Blair as their president – with a salary of £247,000.

Sir John Chilcot, who is chairing the inquiry, will open the hearings on Tuesday by taking evidence from soldiers' families, including those of the 179 troops who died in the war. Mr Blair will give evidence at a later date – when he is expected to find his controversial decision to wage a war in the face of widespread opposition at home laid bare.

It follows the angry confrontation Mr Blair experienced at the commemoration at St Paul's on Friday, when the father of one dead soldier refused to shake his hand because he had "my son's blood on your hands".

Yesterday, Peter Brierley, whose son Shaun died in March 2003 in the run-up to the invasion, said that Mr Blair "went white" when he refused to shake his hand.

The powerful and grief-stricken criticism from Mr Brierley highlights how, nearly seven years on from the invasion, Mr Blair cannot escape his role in the Iraq war which also cost the lives of tens of thousands of civilians.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking at the service, also attacked Mr Blair for failing to consider the human cost of his decisions. And, in a sign that he recognises that he is a toxic and controversial figure across Europe because of Iraq, Mr Blair has deliberately played down his candidacy. His office does not even confirm that he is in the running.

A summit to agree on the appointment will be held at the end of this month – when the Chilcot hearings will be well under way. If there is no agreement, there is another chance in December to choose a president.

It emerged last night that despite President Nicolas Sarkozy of France coming round to the idea of a Blair presidency, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who was expected to follow suit, is now believed to prefer the candidacy of Jan Peter Balkenende, the Dutch Prime Minister.

A diplomatic source said Ms Merkel would not actively prevent Mr Blair becoming EU president if there was a growing consensus for his candidacy, but she thinks Mr Balkenende is a "good candidate". Poland and Spain are also wary of Mr Blair becoming president. Other possible candidates include former Spanish premier Felipe Gonzalez and the ex-Finnish premier, Paavo Lipponen. The total package for the post is estimated at £3.5m over two consecutive terms of two and a half years, including salary, accommodation and expenses. Mr Blair already costs British taxpayers £2m for security.

A BPIX poll for the Daily Mail found that 47 per cent of Britons are opposed to Mr Blair becoming president, while 35 per cent would support him.

The Polish President yesterday ratified the Lisbon Treaty, the reform charter that created the post of president of the European Council of heads of state (or EU president). The Czech Republic alone is still to ratify the treaty.

Further details of the families appearing before the Chilcot Inquiry had not been released by last night.

Do you think Tony Blair deserves to become the first President of the European Union? Or should another candidate fill this handsomely rewarded post? Let us know at: