Thursday 29 October 2009

Not Blair, says ex-Blairite

Charles Clarke makes a cogent case in The Independent against Tony Blair being appointed as President of the European Council. And he argues that it would make strategic sense for the UK to put its efforts into securing the more hands-on role of High Representative, particularly if we want to reverse the risk of drifting out of many major EU strategic discussions.

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.

Clarke's assessment of the EU politics and the UK position strikes me as convincing. And his concern that Blair's "presence would encourage the rerunning of past battles rather than enabling a new approach to be fashioned" is very much framed consistently with Clarke's belief that, while he remains is an admirer of his former boss, there is no such thing as Blairism now.

Timothy Garton-Ash also argues in The Guardian that the considerable "traffic stopping" pros of a Blair Presidency would be outweighed by the cons.

So Garton-Ash's candidate for President is former Finnish President and UN international mediator Martti Ahtisaari. (Next Left felt that this was one the Nobel Prize committee got right in 2008).

However, Garton-Ash's personal dream team of Ahtisaari-Fischer would look like a takeover of EU foreign policy by the European Council of Foreign Relations, the pan-European think-tankwhich they co-chair and which my former colleague Mark Leonard directs.

The ECFR is only two years old but combining innovative thinking with diplomatic firepower on a model not dissimilar to that of the heavyweight US international think-tanks has given it a significant impact in trying to bring more coherent and strategic thinking to major EU foreign policy challenges.


David Miliband made an excellent speech the other day: how often is the case for a European foreign policy dimension being in our national and international interests heard?

But the Foreign Secretary has been very clear that he is not running for High Representative, even taking to twitter to make the case:

Re gdn/times stories I'm not running for Europe High Rep job. I'm the Foreign Sec thank you very much - fully booked.
9:17 AM Oct 23rd from txt

Though Garton-Ash thinks, if the Blair presidential candidacy fails, he may be persuadable.

But after Miliband's challenge to their new EU alliances, that might, perhaps, upset the Conservatives as much or even more than a Blair Presidency.

Yet it also seems that the Conservatives would be very uncomfortable with any British candidate who might have a credible chance of securing one of the major EU roles.

Making a domestic political argument and running noisy party-facing campaigns against British candidates for major international jobs is a novel development: I don't recall that happening over Peter Carrington or George Robertson at Nato, or the major EU jobs held by Roy Jenkins, Leon Brittan, Chris Patten or even Peter Mandelson.

That is another consequence of the strength of the Conservative Eurosceptic challenge to both the EU mainstream and to the traditional 'Foreign Office view' of how to pursue British interests in a multilateral world. But I think it probably also reflects a little on the noisier, more demotic and often more partisan politics of the internet age.

1 comment:

Letters From A Tory said...

"presence would encourage the rerunning of past battles"

If by that you mean holding Tony Blair to account for lying to the UK about taking this country to war, I'm all for it.