Tony Blair is reportedly opening campaigning for the yet-to-be-created position of European President. Sweden and Spain are quietly trying to thwart him.
Ian Traynor for The Guardian:
Senior officials in Stockholm, which assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the EU today, said they feared a President Blair would be a divisive figure, triggering friction between small and large European countries, and added that José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister, was even more strongly opposed to Blair securing the post and usurping Madrid’s running of the union next year.
The decision to appoint a new sitting European president, for a maximum of five years, is to be taken before the end of the year if Ireland votes yes in October in a referendum on the Lisbon treaty streamlining the way the EU is run and also creating the new post.
Fredrik Reinfeldt, the Swedish prime minister, made clear his aversion to Blair securing the plum post, without mentioning the former prime minister by name. “The small countries don’t want a strong leader because they fear he will be run by the big [EU] countries,” said Reinfeldt.
European governments had to decide whether the post ought to be turned into “a strong leader for Europe” or whether the president’s role should be limited to chairing EU summits and “not putting the [European] commission president in the shadow,” said the Swedish prime minister. It was clear he preferred the latter role, a lower profile and less influential function that would probably be less attractive to Blair.
The report goes on to note that Germany’s Angela Merkel has similar reservations while France’s Nicolas Sarkozy is a supporter of both Blair and a strong presidency.
On first blush, it seems quite odd that the Lisbon Treaty would be on course for unanimous ratification while several of the states ratifying it are opposed to one of its key provisions. The problem, however, is that offices have both express powers as well as implied powers and that the first occupant can create precedents that shape the latter.
Under a strict reading of the U.S. Constitution, the American president is clearly subordinate to the Congress. George Washington, however, greatly expanded upon the prerogatives of the office by asserting a doctrine of inherent powers. Because of his reputation and personal authority, he was able to permanently enlarge the office. Subsequent office holders, notably Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, did the same during times of extreme national crisis. As a consequence, the president is not only the most powerful figure in the American political system but is widely considered to be the “leader of the free world.”
A President Blair would undoubtedly be a strong force for asserting EU power over its member states. A less charismatic and well known figure would be far less likely to have the ability to do that.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.