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If not Blair, who for EU Council president?



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.

Opponents of Blair cited several grounds — his loyalty to George W. Bush and support for the Iraq war; the fact that he failed to bring Britain into the euro single currency or the Schengen zone of passport-free travel in his 10 years in power; the fact that he is a strong personality from a large member state. r. Let’s see how the other aspirants fare on those criteria, and what other skeletons they may have in their closet.

Blair’s only declared opponent was Jean-Claude Juncker (second from right), the veteran prime minister of Luxembourg and chairman of the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers. Juncker opposed the Iraq war. His tiny country of 450,000 souls is a founder member of the EU and all its common policies. The Luxembourger prides himself on having brokered many compromises between EU heavyweights France and Germany. But his old-style European federalism is out of fashion in Berlin and Paris, as well as London and much of northern and central Europe. Juncker has a strong political aversion for Britain which surfaces in sometimes outspoken comments late at night or after a drink or two. He alienated French President Nicolas Sarkozy last year due to his perceived passivity when the financial crisis erupted, and his defence Luxembourg’s banking secrecy in a bitter standoff over tax havens. He has few admirers among the new member states of central and eastern Europe.