Blair: EU president?

By Alex Stevenson

An Irish ‘yes’ vote in today’s Lisbon treaty referendum could trigger diplomatic moves to install Tony Blair as the first president of the newly reinvigorated European Union.

Speculation is growing the former prime minister may have the backing of French president Nicolas Sarkozy for the role.

Newspapers today reported German chancellor Angela Merkel remains unconvinced by Mr Blair’s candidacy. He is seen as a divisive figure on the European stage because of the Iraq war and because of his failure to take Britain into the eurozone.

According to the Times newspaper, however, Ms Merkel may view Mr Blair as an acceptable candidate if her country and France receive key posts in the new European Commission.

The creation of president relies on the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, which was scuppered by a ‘no’ vote in last year’s referendum in Ireland.

A second referendum takes place today which, with a different result, would leave just the Czech Republic and Poland required to ratify the treaty before it comes into effect.

“If we get a ‘Yes’ vote it will all move very, very quickly,” a diplomatic source told the Sun newspaper. “Tony could be named by the end of October.”

At present the EU presidency is rotated between member states on a six-month basis. The treaty, which is supposed to come into effect on January 1st next year, would see the new president serve a 30-month term.

Mr Blair’s candidacy would mark an astonishing return to the world stage for the former prime minister, who has spent the last two-and-a-half years as a Middle East peace negotiator and working on climate change and faith issues.

His reappearance as the head of the institutionally reinvigorated EU would have a big impact on British domestic politics and provide a big boost for the Labour party.

David Cameron would be forced to abandon or reassert his policy of insisting on a UK referendum before the next general election, posing him with a new strain of the divisive European political headache which has traditionally plagued his party.

Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats voted to oppose Mr Blair’s presidency at their party conference in Bournemouth last week.