Charles Clarke: Don't give Tony Blair the post of EU President

His presence would revive past battles rather than inspire a fresh approach

Related Topics

Once the Czech President comes to his senses the Treaty of Lisbon will finally be enacted. At that point the European Union must move fast to ensure that Europe is a far more effective and powerful voice in world affairs. It will not be easy but it will happen.

Meanwhile, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy are strengthening their alliance and there are reports that President Obama intends to convene an economic "G4", including the "eurozone" but excluding Britain. For the first time in decades the UK now faces a serious risk of moving towards the margins of European politics.

So at this time it is vital that the British Government has a more effective strategy to bolster our role in the EU than currently seems to be there. At the moment attention is focusing on three European appointments – the "President of the European Union", the "High Representative" (or European Foreign Secretary) and the new British Commissioner.

The only realistic British contender for President is Tony Blair, and it is not surprising that many people across Europe support him because of his qualities of leadership and communication. However, his appointment would not be best either for the EU or for the UK.

More than anything, the EU needs a President who will fashion common European positions on vital issues such as future enlargement, climate change, economic regulation and joint approaches to controlling migration and fighting organised crime.

Though some describe these difficult political tasks as "bureaucratic", the truth is that "crowd-stopping" international representation will achieve little unless the EU is coherent and united in these and other policy areas. Blair's great strengths are not what the EU most needs from this new Presidential office.

The UK's relationship with the EU is more shaky than for many years. Its decisions not to participate in the euro and the Schengen zone have taken us away from the centre of discussions on the economy, migration and international crime. Our pre-occupation with British "red lines" against perceived European "threats" sends the dominating signal that we hardly want to be involved at all. Meanwhile, the Conservatives' visceral opposition to everything European is given increased influence by the widespread expectation that they will form the next government.

The UK desperately needs to rebuild and repair its relationships with the EU. This means a commitment to a fresh start, not least in the minds of the British people. Blair's Presidency of the EU would make this more difficult to achieve. His presence would encourage the rerunning of past battles rather than enabling a new approach to be fashioned.

Whatever the merits or otherwise of this assessment, it remains very doubtful that Tony Blair will command the support he needs to secure this appointment and the UK should certainly not be putting all its eggs in the basket of winning the Presidency.

The EU's High Representative is less in the limelight but will be a role of great significance. It is well-suited to the UK, with its strong internationalist stance on matters from aid and trade to military commitment and expertise. A British contribution here would make the EU a weightier player in world affairs.

It seems that there is currently no front-runner for this role from other countries, whereas a number of Brits are well-respected internationally. They include Tony Blair (for whom this role would be far better suited), Peter Mandelson, David Miliband, George Robertson and Paddy Ashdown. Any of these would do the job very well, benefiting both Europe and the UK.

It would be a great failure if the UK secures neither the Presidency nor the High Representative role and it would then be essential for our national interest that the British Commissioner has a front-line portfolio. However, our absence from the eurozone and Schengen areas makes it difficult for us to secure economic or home affairs portfolios, other than trade. The continuing economic crisis reinforces the difficulties.

Moreover the appointment is complicated by the reported preference of the newly confirmed Commission President José Manuel Barroso that the UK continues to nominate a woman, for reasons of overall gender balance.

With the exception of Cathy Ashton, who has done a good job in the brief period that she has served as Commissioner, few names are being publicly discussed and there is little clarity about the portfolios the British Commissioner might expect.

The best strategy for the UK at this time is to abandon the campaign for a British President, to commit strongly to securing the post of High Representative, with one of the many possible strong UK candidates, and to specify the Commission portfolios we would seek.

The author is MP for Norwich South and was Home Secretary, 2004-06

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Consultants - OTE up to £35,000

£15000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Franchise Operations Manager - Midlands or North West

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The position will be home based...

Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent publishing and...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Daily catch-up: the Greeks can stay in the euro or end ‘austerity’, but not both

John Rentoul
The old 1,000 Greek drachma notes and current 20 euros  

Greece debt crisis: History shows 'new drachma' is nothing to fear

Sean O'Grady
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue