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Can Tony Blair be President of the Council?

Sarkozy%20and%20Blair.jpgDespite Tony Blair's endorsement by Nicolas Sarkozy for the job of Permanent President of the European Council created by the Treaty of Lisbon, there are too many inponderables to know whether he can make it.

First, the referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon in Ireland. No Treaty, No EU President. There is no guarantee that the referendum will pass, despite the knack of the 'No' campaign in discrediting itself by inviting Jean-Marie Le Pen to speak in Dublin. The message that a 'No' vote is a free hit at an unpopular government, as well as the resonance of the main slogan of the 'No' campaign for the referendum on the Nice referendum, which was 'If you don't know, vote no' are haunting those who wish for a positive result.

Ok, so what if the Irish vote 'Yes' after all? Does Tony have the votes? The Council President will be elected by a qualified majority of 258 out of 345 votes from at least 18 out of 27 member states. This means that his appointment can be blocked by 88 votes or 10 governments. Germany, the UK, France and Italy have 29 votes each, Spain and Poland have 27 each. So, who is against Tony: very simply, governments still in office that opposed the war in Iraq, or those Socialist governments now in office that were in opposition back in 2003 and were opposed to the war (Spain, Portugal, Italy). So here is the list:

Italy                         29 votes

Spain                        27 votes

Belgium                    12 votes

Portugal                   12 votes

Austria                     10 votes

Lithuania                   7 votes

Luxembourg              4 votes

Unless there is some horse-trading, there are 101 votes against Blair. But there is also an electoral calendar: elections are being held in Spain in March, and in Italy in April. The probable return to power of Berlusconi in Italy is good news for Tony Blair's EU-Presidential prospects: an extra 29 votes. It is not certain that Zapatero will be re-elected either. So the big question is: what will Angela Merkel do? Later in 2009, she will also be going to the polls and will be unwilling to give the SPD (anti-Blair) any electoral amunition. If Italy becomes pro-Blair, Germany could well come out as anti-Blair: in which case it's still 101 against.

So, about horse-trading: what could persuade the Prime Ministers of Spain and Portugal, Belgium and Luxembourg, as well as the SPD in Germany to support Blair? Appointment to the post of Council President will be linked to the appointment  of the next President of the Commission and EU "Foreign Minister" in 2009. Each of these posts is likely to be distributed between the three main party families: European People's Party (EPP - Christian Democrats and Conservatives), Party of Euorpean Socialists (PES), and the Liberals (ALDE). It is possible that Jose Barroso, the current President of the Commission (and a member of the EPP) will be re-appointed if the EPP do well in the EP elections of 2009 and this coincides with a continuing centre-right majority on the Council. The PES and the governments under centre-left leadership will accept Barroso if they get to pick the Council President. Although Blair technically comes from the PES family, the other socialist parties in Europe will not accept him as "their" candidate. Quite apart from party labels, there is a further obstacle to Blair's presidential hopes: historic isolation by the British government that was perpetuated under his leadership. In the past, member states opting out from the euro and the Schengen area have been excluded from positions witin the EU mainstream. It remains to be seen whether this will continue to be the case. Lastly, Tony Blair's at best lukewarm support for the EU Constitution and the Treaty of Lisbon, together with his "achievement" of Britain's third opt-out, this time over the Charter of Fundamental Rights, have not won him friends in the EU.

Posted on Monday, February 11, 2008 at 11:05AM by Registered CommenterDr Giacomo Benedetto | CommentsPost a Comment

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