British foreign minister tries to revive Blair candidacy for EU job

October 26, 2009

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has launched a rearguard action to revive Tony Blair’s candidacy to be president of the European Union.

For weeks, the former British prime minister was the front-runner for the post which will be created in the 27-nation bloc’s Lisbon reform treaty, which is still awaiting the signature of the Czech president.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, his initial sponsor, said he would have a hard time getting the job because Britain had not joined the euro single currency.

In a television interview on Sunday, in a speech on Monday and at a briefing with reporters in Luxembourg, Miliband set out his vision for a strong Europe that needs a leader like Blair.

“There is a precedent to be set about whether or not we want a strong leadership figure,” Miliband said. “My own view, in that context, is that Tony Blair, if he is a candidate, would be a very good choice.”

He said the changes set out in the Lisbon treaty offered an opportunity for the EU to renew its foreign policy.

“I genuinely believe that unless Europe does so, we will find … that a G20 informally, if not formally, emerges as the key decision making axis in the world – the U.S. and China,“ Miliband said.

He dismissed “as flanking manoeuvres” complaints about Britain’s absence from the euro zone and the borderless Schengen area, and about Blair’s decision to back the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

“This is about every country thinking: do we want a strong collective direct European voice in the world? And this is a job that needs someone who is persuasive, an advocate of a strong vision and committed to coalition-building. And I think that’s what Tony stands for,” Miliband said.

Does Blair still have a chance to become the first president of the EU’s council of leaders? Diplomats say that although his chances have receded, much will depend on the EU’s big powers – France and Germany.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner did not rule it out during foreign ministers’ talks in Luxembourg. He said he backed Blair but that there were others involved in any decision.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has not made her views clear on Blair but she now has agreement on a new coalition and is expected to show her hand soon.

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