Posts tagged ‘Tony Blair’
It’s been amazing fun watching the UK media ruminate on the now seemingly receeding chances of Tony Blair being the first President of the European Council.
Firstly, there is some pleasure to be had in counting the number of times some hack in London gets all mixed up over what the job is. Will he be President of Europe, President of the European Council, President of the Council or President of the Council of Europe? Who knows? Does the UK media care? As an aside, all this confusion could form the basis for some bizarre studentesque drinking game. Every time a UK daily gets it wrong some kind of alcoholic forfeit would be administered. In any case all those reporting on this (or wishing to avoid alcohol abuse through sheer frustration) would be well advised to check out this post from NoseMonkey.
Secondly, is it me or did the UK media become obsessed with Tony Blair as President of the European Council? Even if they didn’t understand what it meant, that he hadn’t yet actually got the job or that with the exception of his successor (Gordon) no-one in the UK gets a vote on it. It was almost like the rest of Europe didn’t exist in this debate. The Brits seemed to take no account of the fact that many pretty well informed Europeans were wandering around Brussels saying ‘not on your life’ to Tony for a whole host of very valid reasons. No doubt whoever does get the job will be painted as an unknown and unelected bureaucrat – even if he happens to be the former Prime Minister of a European country who were founding members of the organisation the British begrudingly joined a couple of decades later.
Thirdly, even in Brussels one gets the sense that everyone is guessing. Ok, there’s some commonly accepted wisdom flying around the place. Front runners never get it. Small states prefer smaller men etc. etc. But really, other than a close cabral of PMs, Presidents and Chancellors, does anyone really know what’s going to happen? However, if your name is Angela and you do know, well, you could always leave a comment.
Finally, I know you’re going to tell me not to spoil everyone’s fun. The analysis of the runners and riders is likely to be far more interesting than what the new man/woman at the top will actually do at the end of the day. To show we’re not all spoilsports here at FH, here’s Nick Williams our MD of Public Affairs in London giving his thoughts on Tony Blair’s ‘covert’ campaign in PR Week this morning.
Related articles by Zemanta
- ‘Nul Points’ for Tony Blair as EU president but David Miliband sounds like a winner (telegraph.co.uk)
There’s a scene in the second of the Lethal Weapon series of films where Murtagh (Danny Glover) and Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) create a fracas in the apartheid era South African consulate in Los Angeles so that Riggs (Mel Gibson) can gain entrance through another door. Joe Pesci asks the South African consular official to talk his friend (Danny Glover) out of emigrating to the most beautiful country in the world. The official is confused. That is until Murtagh is introduced; at which point the official utters in disbelief “But…but…you’re blek”. Mayhem ensues as Glover’s character starts protesting against apartheid.
I was reminded of this scene this morning upon reading an Observer piece on whether Tony Blair should become the first President of the European Council. There are some good arguments in the article both for and against. (For the record I am for). However, it was the only non-British European quoted in the piece that caught my attention. Pier Luigi Bersani, an Italian opposition politician, states the following against Tony Blair’s candidature:
“Tony Blair is a personality with a formidable reputation on the European stage who has always enjoyed a very good relationship with Italy. I have always admired him, despite differences over the war in Iraq. However, when it comes to considering him as a candidate for the European presidency, it needs to be underlined that the UK is not in the Schengen Agreement, nor part of the Euro zone and is therefore not central to the process of European integration. Blair is a splendid man but possibly not the right candidate for this job.”
For Bersani at least it would appear that Tony’s actions in the Iraq war, or indeed his stature as an undeniable political heavyweight, matter not a jot. Much as we all might want to debate them. To state the obvious, he’s simply the wrong nationality. It’s a bit like a Danny Glover’s character wanting to emigrate to 1980s South Africa. Until our relationship with Europe is sorted out once and for all, Britain is unlikely to get the top job.
Which leaves us with one question. While Tony is causing all this mayhem, who and where is Riggs?
I see that the EU Council of Ministers has asked the European Commission to deliver an opinion on Iceland’s application to join the EU, just 10 days after Reykjavik submitted its formal request for membership. The Swedish presidency wants the report by the end of the year, and foreign minister Carl Bildt has implied that Iceland’s status as an EEA country could speed the process of the application, in contrast to the slow progress for the Balkan applicants.
The Icelanders no doubt remain shell-shocked by the collapse of their banking system and the consequent halving in the value of the krona, and crave the stability of the eurozone, but it strikes me that the path to membership may be far from smooth. At the end of the process – say in 2011 – lurks a referendum: by then the mood of the country may have changed.
Fisheries could be a major stumbling block. Seafood accounts for almost half of Iceland’s exports and 10 per cent of its gross domestic product, which is quite something when another chunk of the country’s economy – the banking system – has disintegrated. The cod wars of the 1970s, when Iceland extended its territorial limits to 200 miles and the Royal Navy sent frigates to protect British fishing vessels, showed the depth of national feeling on this issue.
Even now international relations on fisheries policy remain poor. I gather for instance that Iceland has been excluded from negotiations on the management of mackerel stocks in the North Atlantic and has therefore opted out of catch allocations. The country is very concerned to rebuild cod stocks, which is a key economic asset. Stocks may be recovering but there will be intense opposition to surrendering quota to EU fishermen under the common fisheries policy. Just to add to the sensitivities, Iceland still has a whaling industry.
At least the review of the EU common fisheries policy is timely, with signs that ministers have accepted the need for fundamental change (just as well, as many fish stocks in European waters are on the point of collapse – and see Sarkozy’s change of heart). However, the fisheries chapter in the Commission’s Iceland report will be one of the most difficult to compose. Could it be the catalyst for the creation of a new fisheries policy, or will it hark back to the disastrous EU policy which has been pursued since 1973?
Becoming part of the eurozone is the big driver for Iceland, but there could be difficult issues here as well, given the level of Iceland’s public debt (about 100 per cent of gdp). For Iceland to qualify for eurozone membership could be an even greater challenge than is faced by the Baltic states and Hungary.
The vote in the Althing to apply for membership was a close run thing – 33 in favour, 28 against – and it would certainly be wrong to underestimate the negotiating difficulties which lie ahead. If the Irish vote “no” on Lisbon then the prospects for any enlargement would be gloomier still.
Meanwhile Britain’s Conservative shadow foreign secretary William Hague continues to inveigh against Lisbon. But whatever you think of his views, he is a consummate speaker. You may like to savour his recent performance in the House of Commons on the possibility of Tony Blair becoming president of the European Council under a ratified Lisbon Treaty. No wonder Gordon Brown needs a holiday!
Related articles by Zemanta
- European Union Puts Out the Welcome Mat for Once-Aloof Iceland (nytimes.com)
- Iceland’s pain moves closer to EU gain (telegraph.co.uk)
I’ve just watched President Medvedev’s first podcast. A picture speaks a thousand words and here’s a man who wants to demonstrate his importance. He has three computer screens, two mice (one for each hand?!) and more phones than I could count. Disappointingly there was no sign of the red telephone
Medvedev follows other leaders in bypassing mainstream media to talk directly to the nation and show their more cuddly side. Britain’s politicians have been running neck and neck in who’s more interactive. Tony Blair became the first PM to produce a podcast which he made with comedian Eddy Izzard and David Cameron, the leader of the UK Conservatives, grabbed attention with his webcameron in 2006.
Good luck to President Medvedev, in future posts and in answering all those phones whilst keeping an eye on three screens and navigating his two mice…