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

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

Share
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

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mary Christmas: the Bethlehem story is Mary's moment, when a poor peasant girl gives birth to the Son of God in a stable  

The appeal of the Virgin Mary: A supernatural hope at a time of scepticism

Peter Stanford
 

Letters: Why Cameron is wrong about EU child benefits

Independent Voices
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'