The Great Debate UK
Who 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.
There are no officially declared candidates. But Blair has been the front-runner for months, with the public backing of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and of the British government. He was not in Brussels on Thursday, but his name was at the centre of debate in the summit corridors, with many people determined to kill his phantom candidacy off.
Before the summit began, his erstwhile European Socialist comrades agreed, according to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, that they would prefer the EU foreign policy chief job to go to a socialist. That effectively ruled out the presidency for Blair, since the Socialists have no chance of getting both jobs.
The 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.