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Gordon Brown backs Tony Blair for top EU post

Gordon Brown backs Tony Blair for top EU post

Tony Blair's undeclared, behind-the-scenes bid for the presidency of the European Union received a timely boost Wednesday when his old Labour Party rival, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, offered his endorsement.
Brown told Parliament he would back Blair once the new post has actually been created and once Blair expresses his desire for the job. He has backed Blair in the past, but Wednesday's statement was significant because it comes on the eve of a European Union summit, at a time when support for Blair is wavering both at home and on the European continent.
"We will be very happy to support him," Brown told lawmakers.
Blair is the most prominent politician in the running for the new post, which will be established once the Lisbon Treaty is signed, but he faces formidable opposition from Britain's opposition Conservative Party, which is leading in opinion polls and widely expected to gain power at the next general election, which must be held by next June.
Conservative Party lawmaker Malcolm Rifkind, a former foreign secretary, said party leaders have been advising European leaders that choosing Blair would be a serious mistake.
"He's not the right person for the job," said Rifkind. "I think Blair's background, including his support for the war in Iraq, make him unsuitable."
It is also not clear if Blair has the backing of key European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, although Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has promised to back Blair.
The presidency is expected to be discussed on the sidelines of a two-day EU summit set to begin in Brussels on Thursday.
The topic is not on the official agenda, but most officials expect the topic to dominate informal dinner table talk.
"If there are discussions about a Tony Blair candidacy in the margins then the prime minister will be expressing his support," Brown's spokesman, Simon Lewis, said Wednesday.
But not all in Blair's party will back him _ rebel lawmaker Peter Kilfoyle proposed a House of Commons motion Monday urging lawmakers to lobby against the former leader, who was seen by some as betraying party ideals and aligning Britain too closely to U.S. President George W. Bush.
"On his record in international affairs, Tony Blair is wholly unsuitable to be president of the European Union," Kilfoyle's motion reads.
So far nine other legislators have signed Kilfoyle's motion.
There are also some signs that Blair's bid is sputtering in mainland Europe, where some leaders are believed to favor a lower-level, lesser-known bureaucrat for the job and others, like Luxembourg and Belgium, fear domination by the union's larger, more powerful nations.
There is also some resentment of Blair because of his decision not to have Britain adopt the euro, the European currency, or take other measures to forge closer integration.
"We see a growing number of voices against Blair and they use different arguments," said Jonas Tallberg, a professor of political science at Stockholm University in Sweden. "One argument is that he was so enthusiastic in the Iraq issue. Another argument is that he comes from a member country that is all but an enthusiastic EU member and not part of the Euro. The third argument is that he comes from a big member state."
French officials are tentatively backing Blair, but analysts warn they could easily change course.
"It is not certain that France will support Blair through to the end," said Philippe Moreau Defarges, political scientist at the French Institute for International Relations.
He said Blair's bid may be torpedoed by the smaller countries whose leaders are lining up to oppose the former British leader.
Ultimately, Moreau Defarges said he saw "not much of a chance of success" for Blair.
"Can we really have Blair as a president of Europe, Blair who sent troops to Iraq and who said no to the euro?" he asked.
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Associated Press Writers David Stringer in London, Malin Rising in Stockholm, Constant Brand in Brussels and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-08-02 15:06 GMT+08:00