Felipe Gonzalez takes on Blair for EU presidency

Nicolas Sarkozy backing Spanish Socialist former PM

He oversaw the modernisation of Spain and secured its entry into the EU; he ruled for 13 years before falling from view in a 1996 political scandal. But now Felipe Gonzalez, the charismatic former Socialist prime minister is once more stalking the land and being spoken of as a challenger to Tony Blair in the race to become the first "President of Europe".

The post doesn't actually exist yet, and won't unless Irish voters approve the Lisbon Treaty in a second referendum in October. The powers that go with the job are still ill-defined, and candidates are unlikely to emerge until the treaty is ratified. Accordingly, Mr Gonzalez says he is not standing and doesn't aspire to the job.

But for a politician who never in his long career took an uncalculated step, actions speak louder than words. Mr Gonzalez's third-term Socialist government collapsed in sleaze in 1996, and his standing suffered after the "dirty war" in which government-sponsored death squads targeted Eta Basque separatists. His personal involvement was never proved, and time has laundered his reputation. Mr Gonzalez has stepped decisively from the shadows to centre stage and is, despite professing lack of interest, positioning himself perfectly.

He was active in Spain's recent EU election campaign, formidable at 67, filling stadiums with what observers reckoned was the most convincing analysis of Europe's future by any EU politician. "It seems Europe is waiting for Obama to pull the cart, and the rest of us will follow. Europe has been adrift for 20 years," the former premier said in his many public appearances.

The Gonzalez message was not improvised for the soapbox, and chimed badly with the strident leftism of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. It emerges from decades of passionate Europhilia, and months of leading a Reflection Group on Europe's long-term future set up at the suggestion of the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy.

It is M. Sarkozy who is key to the shadowy power game surrounding the future leadership of the EU, according to analysts including Le Monde's former editor Jean-Marie Colombani.

"Sarkozy wants Gonzalez. He doesn't care if he's a Socialist. He thinks he's best because he'd be the embodiment of a strong president; it would make Europe's first leader a man with ideas about Europe... who wouldn't let member governments continue fiddling around instead of moving to the next stage."

Yet it was also President Sarkozy who previously backed Mr Blair for the Brussels job, according to diplomats. The French President changed his mind, M. Colombani told El Pais, because "as special EU envoy to the Middle East, Blair hasn't done anything, and with the polemic over his actions on the Iraq war, Sarkozy decided to convince Felipe Gonzalez to present his candidature".

Mr Gonzalez is a heavyweight with a gift for connecting with people, but – Spain being a middle-ranking EU member – presents no threat to the pecking order. Thus French support remains firm: "M. Sarkozy is in favour of Mr Gonzalez's candidature once the Lisbon Treaty is passed," Mr Gonzalez's spokesman, Joaquin Tajar, said.

"Sarkozy floated Tony Blair's candidacy and didn't get much response, so he decided to look elsewhere," Mr Tajar said. "But for the moment he wouldn't stand, we can discard the possibility for now. There are no proposals, just soundings, the situation is very fluid," he added.

Other member states are thought to be wary of Tony Blair, fearing that he would be a divisive figure. And if someone else is up for the job he may well leave them to it.

Felipe Gonzalez is renowned for never making a political enemy. His decisive but non-aggressive style converted even Margaret Thatcher into a fan. The ideal candidate, then?

"The problem," said Mr Tajar, "is that he can be very resistant". The Catalan Socialist party wanted to raise Mr Gonzalez's profile during the European election campaign by declaring that he would stand for the EU presidency. But he vetoed it. "Felipe needs to be asked," an insider said. "He won't contest a fight, his pride won't let him. He likes a clear run."

Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments