Tag Archives: Tony Blair

The Battle for the EU Presidency

A battle is brewing for control of the European Union. At stake, according to some, is the very future direction of the organization.

Pending final approval by the Czech Republic, the last EU member still to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, the European Union will have a full-time president. The post will have some real powers, similar to those possessed by the head of government. But equally importantly, the new president will essentially operate as head of state, the symbolic figurehead of the European Union. The choice of who will occupy that position therefore is therefore important.

Until recently, former British Prime Minster Tony Blair appeared to be the undisputed frontrunner. Blair is a widely known figure who enjoys strong support by the British government, has close ties to the United States, and could operate effectively in an international context.

But the United Kingdom has traditionally been one of the more Euroskeptic members of the European Union. In addition, his friendship with former U.S. President George W. Bush, his support for the Iraq War, and his close ties to the United States undermine support for his candidacy among some EU members. Belgium and Luxembourg have already indicated that they would not support a Blair presidency; France and Germany have withheld their assessment for now.

In this context, Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister of Luxembourg, has thrown his hat into the ring. Junker is seen to be much more pro-Europe. But this could also be his downfall, as some of the EU member states may not want a president who pushes too hard for further integration. The United Kingdom would likely veto his presidency. Indeed, this may be his very plan; to advance his own candidacy as a way of sinking Blair’s, allowing a third (compromise) candidate to come to the fore.

The politics of choosing a new EU president will be interesting to watch over the next several months. If nothing else, the battle over who will become the EU’s first full-time president exposes some key divisions within the EU.

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Five Stories You Might Have Missed

There have been several interesting developments in European politics over the past few days. Final results were released Saturday from the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. The Irish approved the treaty by a wide margin (with 67.1% of voters in favor) after defeating the treaty in June 2008 by a 53.4 percent majority. Ireland’s approval of the treaty represents an important step forward in approving a restructuring of the European Union; a restructuring that would expand the influence of the European Parliament, establish a full-time presidency for the EU (a position for which former British Prime Minister Tony Blair may be tapped), and limit the ability of national governments to veto EU legislation in certain areas. But despite the approval by Irish voters, Czech President Vaclav Klaus tempered expectations, stating that he may delay signing the treaty until a Czech appeals court can review the treaty and assess its implications for Czech sovereignty.

Two important elections also took place recently. In Germany, Angela Merkel won reelection as Germany’s Chancellor. The victory of her center-right coalition promises to continue her emphasis on greater openness for the German economy. Preliminary results from Greek elections on Sunday suggest that the Socialists will soundly defeat the ruling New Democracy party, possibly securing a legislative majority in the national parliament. The contradictory results suggest an interesting restructuring of European politics.

In news from outside of the European Union last week:

1. Government ministers at the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Turkey this week rejected warnings by the banking sector that new financial regulations could undermine economic growth. Representatives from the United States, Italy, and the United Kingdom all rejected claims by the global bankers association that regulatory overkill could undermine global economic growth and result in the creation of fewer jobs. But despite apparent agreement on the need for new financial regulations, considerable debate over the exact nature and structure of those regulations remains, and an agreement on the details appears to be a ways off.

2. The International Olympic Committee granted Rio de Janeiro the right to host the 2016 Olympic Games on Friday, making Rio the first South American city to host the Olympics. A last minute visit by President Barack Obama to Copenhagen was unable to convince the IOC to grant the games to Chicago, which was also bidding to host. Several observers have raised concerns that Obama’s unsuccessful campaign to win the games may undermine his ability to deliver on health care reform and foreign policy objectives.

3. A massive earthquake in Indonesia resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,100 people last week. The tragedy follows a tsunami in the South Pacific that killed more than 100 people. Concerns that another, larger quake could strike soon were also raised on Saturday. International aid campaigns have begun delivering supplies to the region, but the widespread devastation of government facilities in the region could hamper aid efforts.

4. The President of Burkina Faso has been dispatched to meet with the military rulers of Guinea to address the emerging crisis in the country. More than 100 people have been killed in Guinea in the past week, as the county’s military government has moved to quash opposition protests. On Thursday, Cellou Dalein Diallo, former prime minister and current opposition leader, was forced to flee the country, as Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who came to power as the country’s leader in a December coup, has attempted to solidify his hold on power.

5. On Sunday, the government of Iran agreed to permit International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to visit a secret uranium enrichment facility made public by the United States last week. The discovery of the site led the Russian government to concede the possibility of United Nations sanctions on the Iranian government—a proposal which both Russia and China have long opposed. The Iranian decision comes ahead of scheduled six-party talks, involving the United States, Russia, France, China, Britain, Germany, and Iran, at the end of the month.