Sunday, October 04, 2009

Tony Blair's Second Coming?

After Ireland ratified the Treaty of Lisbon, and with only Poland and Czech Republic left to go before the treaty is fully ratified, the speculations are hotting up for the new President of European Council, or the 'President of Europe' in the popular imagination. And, one would not be surprised if Tony Blair, whose name is making the rounds for a while, ends up getting the job. If that happens, no one will be surprised: Mr. Blair has always been very Presidential, and is suitably high profile for the job. However, it is likely to leave a lot of people disappointed.

But, before we get to that stage, a lot of things can go wrong. First, indeed, if any of those two remaining countries fail to ratify the treaty, all these talk will be meaningless. Poland and Czech Republic are both Europe friendly countries, and both countries know that the EU represents a lifeline in the middle of this deep economic crisis. So, it is fairly unlikely that they would want to scupper any deal. But, indeed, if they happen to reject or even stall the treaty, it is as good as dead. One also has to remember that while David Cameron is sitting pretty because he is committed to a referendum on the treaty only if it is not fully ratified by the time he comes to power, he has to hold the referendum if there are any delays. And, with Britain in its current mood, that will be the end of Europe.

Besides, Tony Blair faces a formidable competition from Jean-Claude Juncker, the current Prime Minister of Luxembourg and an Europe insider, a reliable, low profile candidate that the European leaders seem to prefer. Besides, he will also face enormous opposition from his home country, where the Tories have announced that they will fight Blair's nomination and will lobby against him in the European capitals. With David Cameron all set to come to power within the next few months, that will surely count. And, besides, a President of European Council without a say in his home country is a lame duck, indeed.

But one can never write off Tony Blair, the most successful politician in Europe in his generation [and possibly the most successful politician in his generation world over, given that Clinton may not have won a third term even if he was allowed to run]. He is suitably Presidential, high profile and high minded, just something that Europe needs if it has to stand up and be counted in the age of Chinese and Indian domination. He is highly regarded in America, though one does not know whether that is an asset or a liability in European politics. He is Centre-Left and that may have some resonance with America, which is leaning left currently. He is suitably corporatist, which will not make Europe, which is taking a rightward turn, uncomfortable. So, as in the past as now, Mr. Blair sits right at the centre, or, as we may say, at the middle of things.

While we wait and speculate, it is interesting to see what effect a Blair Presidency may mean to European Council. I think this will actually be the logical next step for the council, which will get an identity on its own. There are two strong, assertive leaders in Europe already - in France and in Germany. With a strong leader at the head of the Council, Europe may suddenly return to the Foreign Policy Head Table, a position it is almost certainly going to lose within the next decade. It may also mean good news for Turkey, as they will find a Champion at the middle of things, someone who has an expansive view of Europe and an engaged role of the European powers in the World affairs.

A Blair stint may also mean that Europe will have a closer alignment with the Anglo-Saxon world view. I say this with the knowledge that Mr. Blair may find his greatest detractors in the British Prime Minister himself. But this may still be true because, otherwise, the Europeans, under the Sarkozy-Merkel leadership, is almost certain to drift apart from Americans, leaving Britain to a state of irrelevance. With a Barack Obama sensitive and committed to the emerging power alignments with Russia and China, the Europeans may struggle to hold the attention for very long. Mr. Blair may bring a sense of purpose and independent [from the German and French world view, that is] course for the European foreign policy, and by doing so, make them relevant again in the broader scheme of things.

I know this is a strange thing to say about the man who is widely despised for his servitude to George Bush, and his compliance with America's illegal, one-sided war in Iraq. But it is possible, with the benefit of hindsight, to see his actions in a different light today: He took the best course under the circumstances and stood for action and engagement, rather than indecision and waiting, when the Western world seemed to have faced imminent danger. I obviously believe that the methods were wrong, the war in Iraq was ill-advised and its consequences, tragic. But, I think the key point for Mr. Blair was to keep Britain relevant, and he knew, like his predecessors, that Britain is only relevant in alignment with the Americans. However, with the job in Europe, he has almost an identical problem in a bigger scale, and he may choose the same solution - an independent foreign policy for Europe, which is also in alignment with the Americans. [And, with Barack Obama, he may find it easier to achieve]

His actions in Europe was always in line with the old school of British foreign policy: Remember he was central in bringing the East Europeans in the EU, and thereby, balanced the powers of Central and Western Europeans, and aligned it better with British and American interests. I am certain the same will continue if he gets a say now in Europe: He will continue to get Turkey in, which, in his mind, will align Europe even better with the Anglophone powers and let it become more dynamic and expansive to wield some influence in world stage.

So, Blair presidency will not be a bad thing for Europe, or for Britain, or, for that matter, for America. What it means for the world at large is a different matter. An independent-minded Europe may or may not have a good influence; but a non-existent Europe will surely be a bad thing.

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