The British media are having a field day this morning about the idea of Tony Blair as President of the European Union, following remarks yesterday by Glenys Kinnock, the Minister for Europe, who said that “the UK government is supporting Tony Blair’s candidature for president of the council.”
But Charlemagne, the Economist’s European columnist, thinks everyone’s getting a bit ahead of themselves. While he missed the press briefing in Strasbourg at which Kinnock’s remarks were made, he’s spoken to a lot of his colleagues who were there, and the gist is that
Lady Kinnock, who is a very new minister, after years as an MEP, basically messed up. She was asked about Tony Blair as a possible candidate for the new presidential job, and bafflingly, this question took her by surprise. She meant to be enthusiastic, but went too far. So when she said that:
“The UK government is supporting Tony Blair’s candidature for president of the council”
that did not mean that there is a Blair candidacy, and the British government is working behind the scenes to lobby for him. What she meant was, if Tony Blair were to become the candidate, then logically enough the Labour government would lobby for him.
I do not think I am being spun here. I am told that senior British officials believed, to quote one source, that Lady Kinnock “fucked up” in the way she phrased this, and that makes sense to me … it is not something anyone wanted to rush into now. For one thing, frontrunners almost never get the big jobs in Europe. For another, it is hard to see why Mr Blair would want to put himself forwards for a job he was not very likely to get, interrupting his well-paid semi-retirement with a blast of global humiliation. Then there is the question of whether Britain would like a strong, high-profile figure to be the first holder of the post.