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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor’s Letter: The Easter message

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

There is far too much sexism in the UK - but a point scoring system against other countries won't help to tackle it

Victoria Richards
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit