Miliband backs Blair as EU president

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The Independent Online

Foreign Secretary David Miliband today gave his strong backing to Tony Blair's candidacy to be the first permanent President of the European Union.

But he ruled himself out of the other high-ranking post created by the Lisbon Treaty, High Representative for Foreign Affairs, saying: "I am not a candidate for that. I am not available."

Mr Miliband said that a Blair presidency would be "very good for Britain as well as very good for Europe" and said he was "puzzled" by Conservative opposition to the prospect of having a British politician in such a senior European role.

The Foreign Secretary, a close personal ally of Mr Blair, appeared to suggest that the former Prime Minister would be interested in the post only if it gave him real political clout in the international arena.

The leaders of the 27 EU member states meet in Brussels on Thursday to thrash out the remit of the new president, with some of the smaller states believed to favour a low-profile role involving little more than chairing meetings.

Mr Miliband indicated that Mr Blair wanted a job in which, when he arrives in foreign capitals, "the traffic does need to stop" and he is guaranteed access to political leaders at the highest level.

The Foreign Secretary told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: "I think it is very important for Europe that it has a strong figure in that role, it has someone able persuasively to advocate the case that is decided by the 27 member states of the EU.

"I think it would be very good for Britain as well as very good for Europe if Tony Blair was a candidate and was chosen."

Mr Miliband said he expected the new President to be selected by the 27 EU leaders soon after the Lisbon Treaty is finally signed by Vaclav Klaus, the President of the Czech Republic, the only member-state which has not yet ratified.

"I think this is an important moment for Europe. It has got a new Commission, hopefully with the passage of the Lisbon Treaty a new system of running its affairs, a more efficient system," said the Foreign Secretary.

"It needs to take that opportunity, otherwise we will find the world run by America and China without any reference to us."