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Should he stay or should he go? Miliband ponders

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OUKTP-UK-IRAN-NUCLEAR-BRITAINShould he stay or should he go?

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband could be Europe’s first foreign minister in all but name, with one of the most influential jobs in shaping the place of the 27-nation bloc on the world stage, if he is willing to risk leaving British politics for the next five years. That’s a big if.

Miliband is half of a “ticket” concocted by French and German diplomats to fill the two new top jobs created by the Lisbon treaty. The other half is Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy, the preferred candidate for president of the European Council. Officially, Miliband says he is ”not available” and is backing Tony Blair’s forlorn bid for the presidency. If he turns the role down, it could well to go to former Italian Prime Minister Massimo d’Alema.

The High Representative for foreign and security policy, with a big diplomatic staff, a multi-billion-euro budget and the additional position of senior vice-president of the European Commission, will arguably be more powerful than the European Council president, whose role is largely to prepare and chair quarterly summits. Miliband would bring dynamism, an incisive intellect and inspiring oratory to the job.

At 44, he is seen as the natural next leader of the Labour Party if, as expected, Gordon Brown loses the next general election. Given the average length of Britain’s political cycle since the 1980s, the centre-left party probably faces at least two parliamentary terms in opposition – roughly eight years. So Miliband would have time to burnish his international credentials in Brussels and return home before he turns 50, and before Labour has exited the political wilderness.

If not Blair, who for EU Council president?

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Within a couple of weeks, European Union leaders are going to choose the first president of the European Council now the Lisbon Treaty has finally been ratified.

It won’t be Tony Blair, given the opposition of his European Socialist comrades to the former British prime minister and the hostility of several west European governments. So it’s time to subject some of the other contenders to the same scrutiny that Blair has faced as the undeclared front-runner in this surreal race. Most of the 27 EU leaders appear to want a low-key, consensus-building chairman of their quarterly summit meetings rather than a high-profile globe-trotting statesman.

Mr Who for EU president? EU seeks anyone but Blair

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blairWho will be the first president of the European Council of EU leaders? Anyone but Tony Blair. That is the only clear message to emerge from a European Union summit, where the appointments of the EU’s two new senior office-holders is not on the agenda but is on everyone’s mind.

The appointment process is typical of the surreal way in which the 27-nation bloc does business. The job is poorly defined in the Lisbon treaty reforming the EU’s institutions, which is expected to come into force in the next few weeks.  But it is clear that most leaders are looking for a consensus-building summit chairman rather than a high-profile president of Europe.

Ireland puts the EU show back on the road

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biffoThe EU show is back on the road. Sixteen months after Irish voters brought the European Union’s tortured process of institutional reform to a juddering halt by voting “No” to the Lisbon treaty, the same electorate has turned out in larger numbers to say “Yes” by a two-thirds majority.

This is an immense relief for the EU’s leadership. After three lost referendums in France, the Netherlands and Ireland, and a record low turnout in this year’s European Parliament elections, the democratic legitimacy of the European integration process was increasingly open to question. The Irish vote will not completely silence those doubts. Opponents are already accusing the EU of have bullied the Irish into voting again on the same text, and of blackmailing them with economic disaster if they did not vote the right way this time.

Blair for EU president? Don’t hold your breath

The British government has chosen a strange time to announce its support for former Prime Minister Tony Blair for the not-yet-existent job of President of the European Council. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has publicly touted Blair as a good candidate, and his name is among a handful discussed among EU diplomats. But there was no obvious reason for Europe Minister Glynnis Kinnock to go public with a British candidacy now.

For one thing, the vacancy will only arise if Irish voters approve the Lisbon Treaty at the second time of asking on Oct. 2, and the Czech and Polish presidents then agree to sign it. Touting candidates now might seem to be taking the Irish for granted and may not go down well in Dublin.

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