One president for 27 nations: Can Tony Blair lead Europe?
Britain's former prime minister is poised to be the first-ever president of the European Union – a notion that's causing some unease on the continent.
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As the actual job description remains vague, the first holder of the post will be in the powerful position of being able to shape its function.Skip to next paragraph
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Richard Whitman, an expert on the European Union from London's Chatham House think tank, regards Blair as an outsider, but says he should still not be written off, adding: "It partly depends on Sarkozy, who he is feeling about it at the time.
"The whole question of the personality is important. You obviously have to have someone with past experience who can stand up to other heads of state. But equally, do they choose a weaker character who is not top drawer and is easier to control?"
Professor Whitman says Britain's prime minister, Gordon Brown, is damaged and lacks political capital. But, he adds: "paradoxically, it does not matter to Blair's chances, although the British government will be nudging things behind the scenes."
Others to watch
As for Blair's still-undeclared rivals, former Spanish prime minister Felipe Gonzalez is emerging strongly, although member states may be reluctant to hand a third key European job to another Iberian, given the fact that the roles of EU foreign policy chief and president of the European Commission are held respectively by Javier Solana, a former minister under Mr. Gonzalez, and José Manuel Barroso, a former Portugese prime minister.
Elsewhere, Luxembourg's prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, has been identified in the German press as the favored candidate of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who herself has sometimes been tipped as one of the few female possibilities.
Other possible contenders have included the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel and former Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, although the latter's chances faded after he left office last year with an ongoing official inquiry his past personal financial dealings.
For now, all bets on the job are off until all 27 EU states ratify the union's reforming Lisbon Treaty, in which the presidential post is enshrined. The treaty must pass muster this October with Irish voters, who have already rejected it once.