Tabassum Rasheed, VP European Affairs Society
“Blair has clout and experience”
Now, I’m no great fan of Tony Blair. It wouldn’t even be an understatement, in fact, to say that I despised him by the time he left office. But I’m still convinced that he’s the right man to head the EU Presidency. I can understand the worries: Blair is technically a centre-left politician who would be trying to head a centre-right Europe; he comes from a country that continually rails against the supposed restraints of the EU; he listened to Bush and American interests over the advice of European leaders when considering the war in Iraq.
Those worried about Blair’s past record might be comforted by the fact that this time around, he won’t actually have a defence force at his beck and call, nor the power to override everyone else on the EU council. And despite the Iraq fiasco overshadowing everything else during his term, he did seriously consider marrying Britain into the Euro, and was in fact, the most Eurofriendly British premier since Ted Heath. But most importantly, he’s also one of the most widely known politicians in the world, and one who, for good or ill, has elicited strong reactions from across the globe.
And it is this factor that’s important. As even President Sarkozy has pointed out, any EU President needs to have the clout and the experience to deal with the rest of the world. The role of the President is as of yet largely undefined and the onus is on the first person to hold the role to set the tone for the future of Europe. The EU after all, makes up 20% of the world’s GDP, but its international standing is far far less; what is needed is a high-profile politician, one adept at speaking and communication, one used to the world stage. This especially becomes clear when you consider that Blair’s nearest rival is a man called Jean-Claude Juncker, the current Prime Minister of Luxembourg. ‘Who?’, you may ask. As would the rest of the established world.
In an age where the world looks to be dominated by the US and China, and the emerging BRIC countries, Europe doesn’t need a diplomatic, small-time, self-effacing champion of domestic harmony. What Europe needs is someone who has worldwide contacts, who already commands media attention and will be listened to by other officials and governments and who is willing to speak, negotiate and bully his way into raising Europe’s profile on the world stage.
Louisa Stoppard, Union Secretary
“Blair is an entirely discredited figure”
Let’s look at Tony Blair’s record: he repeatedly misled the country and lost the trust of a once hopeful electorate; he failed to live up to the expectations of those of us who initially supported him; and he helped to tear apart our relationship with moderate Arab allies. In 2007, the people of Britain and around the world bid him goodbye. Just two years later, this man is being touted as the first ever President of the European Union.
Whatever its formal power, the role of European President is going to be one with enormous influence around the world; he or she will be able to “stop the traffic in Beijing and Moscow”. The Union has 500 million citizens. Does the Union really want to tell the world that we have no one better to represent us than this entirely discredited figure?
The two key international issues that the President will be involved in are the Middle East Peace Process and the ratification of a new Climate Change Accord. Blair cannot, and will not, be trusted on either. Our allies in the Arab world do not trust him. Iran, Iraq and most of the Palestinian people are openly hostile towards him. As Bill Clinton showed, the vital ingredient for any progress on the MEPP is trust; is there honestly anyone in Europe who believes that Blair, viewed by many in the Arab world as a reincarnated Crusader, can persuade people to trust him? Whatever his intentions and commitment to a two state solution, Blair’s reputation remains poisoned by Iraq, and he will not be able to make any progress on this issue. So while Europe will finally have a figurehead who can represent its collective influence, Blair will blunt whatever moral authority that figurehead may have had.
On Climate Change, Blair’s record speaks for himself. For 10 years he led a country which, unlike so many others in the world, was convinced of the science behind climate change and, crucially, had the energy and will to do something about it. The dynamism of groups like Climate Rush, the surge in support for the Green party and the thousands of small but significant ‘green initiatives’ in businesses, schools and societies throughout the country, attest to Britain’s readiness to tackle climate change. Under Blair’s premiership, we gave in to petrol strikes, did not improve our public transport and, ultimately, saw emissions rise. So while Europe will finally have a figurehead who can represent its collective influence, Blair will prioritise words over action.
Tony Blair is not, despite what the Daily Mail thinks, devoid of any moral authority whatsoever. But the choices he made throughout his premiership, for better or for worse, have enduring consequences. Those consequences mean, unfortunately, that he simply will not be able to make use of the huge good that this role could do.