Tony Blair backed to be Europe's first president

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The Independent Online

Europe minister Glenys Kinnock today reinforced speculation that Tony Blair wants to be Europe's first president.

She said the entire Government fully supported Mr Blair's "candidature" although the former prime minister has refused to confirm that he is bidding for the post.

There is no official list of contenders for a new Euro-job which will only exist if the Lisbon treaty is fully approved and ratified by all EU countries.

But Mrs Kinnock, visiting the European Parliament in Strasbourg, made clear the Government would be pushing him as the man to run Europe for up to five years under new treaty arrangements.

"The UK Government is supporting Tony Blair's candidature for president of the Council (of EU governments)," she told a press conference.

Asked if the prospect of being Europe's president had been discussed with Mr Blair, she said: "It is the Government's position. I am sure they would not do that without asking him".

Speculation has been mounting for years that Mr Blair would be the obvious choice to represent the EU under the new arrangements. The post - with an undefined remit but with a mission to be the global face of the EU - would run for two and a half years and be renewable once.

That would give Mr Blair a possible five-year term to help shape the EU, chairing summits of EU leaders and setting the agenda in all key policy areas.

Mr Blair has kept away from the debate about his future, aware that bidding too soon could scupper any chances of getting the necessary consensus amongst EU leaders.

There would also be attacks from eurosceptics if there were official discussions about a job based on the assumption the controversial Lisbon treaty will come into force.

In any case, no formal announcement of a candidacy would be made until after the Irish referendum on the treaty in the autumn - and only if the voters say "yes".

Mrs Kinnock said Mr Blair would be a good choice because he was perceived by many as having the right qualities.

She said: "He is someone with strength of character, status, people know who he is, and he could step into this new role with a lot of respect and he would be generally welcomed."

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