European Union: The Agenda-Setting Choice

by Caela

After the Irish’s resounding yes to the Lisbon Treaty, all eyes are now on Europe. Once the Treaty is fully ratified, the Leaders of EU’s 27 States will sit down for a vote that would define the future of the union — and even possibly the international political arena — for at least the next decade. The first president will set a precedent not only in terms of how the job would be defined but also on how the world will view the an EU Council President, a position whose importance (if nothing else) is having the ears of the leaders (and even possibly influence over)  27 member states of the union. And seen as the President of Europe around the world, it could be so much more.

In the coming weeks this decision is likely to be made. And depending upon this decision, the political gravity may shift. The world is watching and waiting with the most important issues on hold. Across European capitals, the speculations have started. The powers of the new position remain unspecified and to a large extent it will be defined by the first person in the role. A key question is whether that will be a largely unknown bureaucrat or a luminary like Blair.

Washington, Moscow, Delhi and Beijing are waiting and the best position for them is to do nothing and say nothing at all. Capitals around the world are bound to be nervous. The international political arena needs change and it is one that an influential new EU President could possibly provide. Yet they will of course be wondering what this change will mean for them. Majors decisions are on hold as capitals try to position themselves while Europe is on the process of further integration.

President Blair

Two years after French President Nicolas Sarkozy first placed his name forward and right after the Irish vote, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has emerged as the favorite candidate for the post. And among diplomatic circles words are going around that the current Quartet Envoy is the only real candidate as of the moment.

Two years out of office, Tony Blair had been engaged with the most pressing issues today: Africa, Middle East, Climate Change and (the one issue most leaders try to avoid) religion. And it is not only Britain and France who had cast their weights behind a Tony Blair candidacy, Italy and Ireland had expressed that they would be supportive of Tony Blair if he would be a candidate for the post. With a strengthening Franco-German alliance and a new coalition in Germany, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to come out in support of the former British Prime Minister as well. Perhaps telling of such a rapprochement was the Paris summit on the future of capitalism in January of this year, where Blair shared the stage with Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy. Out of all the potential speakers at this summit, it is quite curious that it was Blair, front-runner to join them in future as the EU’s president. Moreover, the 10 eastern European countries who joined during his term in office are also expected to be supportive of his possible candidacy.

Other names that came up with along side Blair are Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, former Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, former Polish President Aleksander  Kwasniewski and former Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen would be in danger of being seen as lightweights. (Gonzales, Schüssel and Juncker are cropping up less often in political gossip than they have before. Meanwhile Dutch European Minister Frans Timmermans said on Sunday The Hague will not put forward a nominee placing Balkenende out of the running.) Unlike other candidates for the post, who tend to be lesser known European bureaucrats, Blair enjoys worldwide name recognition and is on a first-name basis with many world leaders, enjoying a celebrity status that would likely confer immediate credibility on the new post. (There is another reason why American Presidential campaign takes 2 years, it is because candidates have to be known across the world’s capitals and build up a global stature and reputation.) In the past, the EU has filled top posts with candidates chosen after months of horse-trading between member states. But the new president will be Europe’s chief spokesman and mediator, and will need all the charisma that Blair exudes.

Highly respected across Africa and the Middle East, Tony Blair’s biggest advantage is having the ears of Washington, Moscow, Delhi and Beijing which is most important to the European Union. A Blair presidency would enable them to punch above their weight. Under him, the EU might soon emerge as the leading force in Afghanistan, the Middle East peace process, the climate debate and the global economy.

Paradoxically, his strongest qualification could be his nationality. A Blair presidency may be a good counter-measure for a likely Tory government in Britain as Brussels becomes increasingly nervous of Britain’s Conservative Party’s increasingly Euro-sceptic stand as it positions itself to take over the Euro-sceptic Britain. Having in Brussels someone who could influence the British public’s opinion in the other direction could in fact shake the British political ground before or even after the coming general election. The recent survey commissioned by the The Times showed that despite 53% in Britain against the idea of Tony Blair holding the top job, 43% views it favorably, and this may be enough for Brussels to see the advantage of a Blair presidency in influencing the British opinion. (43%, of course, is an approval rating many second termers would give a right hand for and Tony Blair had been in the top political arena for much more than that.)

Decision Time

Officially, the position has not yet become the subject of negotiation — first, the treaty must be ratified by Poland and the Czech Republic. Polish President Lech Kaczynski is expected to sign the treaty in the next few days. Czech President Vaclav Klaus, for his part, will likely wait a few weeks longer, given a pending court ruling and his own antipathy to the EU.

A lot of things seem to be happening in the coming weeks and they are not co-incidental. In the coming weeks, EU leaders would decide to fill two very important posts: that of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and President of the European Council. Their decision could determine whether the union really seeks the bigger role it says it needs to try to match the influence of the United States and that of rising powers like China, Russia and India. Until then, we can expect the United States to put their Afghanistan Strategy on temporary hold. Across the Middle East, it is viewed that the Middle East peace process will also restart in the coming weeks and not least because of the perceived shift that may take place in the international political arena.

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  1. […] 3. Would you Buy it For a Quarter has various writers, on various topics. Caela, one of their contributors,  is a strong Blair supporter. […]



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