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Belgium against Blair bid to become EU head

Published on 03/04/2008

3 April 2008

BRUSSELS – Belgian foreign minister Karel De Gucht on Wednesday poured cold water on former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s bid to become the European Union’s first full-time president.

De Gucht said Belgium would not accept a candidate from a country that does not fully participate in all EU policies, including the euro currency and the bloc’s passport-free zone.

Britain has opted out of both and also maintains its so-called “red lines” on policing, justice and internal affairs.

“The president of the European Council, who will be playing an important role on the world stage, should better come from a country that participates in all policies the European Union carries out,” De Gucht told VRT radio.

“I don’t think that someone who constantly asks for opt-outs, like Britain, should be able to deliver the president.”

De Gucht’s comments marked the first public veto of Blair’s bid by an EU member. Blair had received early backing from his successor, prime minister Gordon Brown, and French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Many expect protracted and nasty behind-the-scenes jockeying for top EU jobs over the next few months. Besides the new post of EU president, a new president of the European Commission and EU foreign policy representative will also be chosen next year.

Under Lisbon Treaty rules, all 27 EU members must approve the new leaders.

The new EU boss position will yield few formal powers but the president will chair leaders’ summits and meetings and help the EU’s foreign policy chief represent the bloc on the world stage.

The job replaces the current and often confusing system in which EU leaders and nations rotate into the presidency every six months.

De Gucht told VRT radio that the new president should be limited in his role.

“I am scared and Belgium is scared of a too-powerful chair of the European Council who could really start to play the role of a ‘president of Europe,”‘ De Gucht said.

He said he feared that a high-profile president like Blair could overshadow the other top EU jobs and institutions, such as the European Commission. That concern is shared by smaller EU states that rely on the EU’s executive as a balance against the bloc’s big members Germany, Britain, France, Spain and Italy.

Belgium’s veto of Blair also was seen as revenge against Britain’s vetoes of former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhostadt’s bid to become president of the European Commission four years ago.

The Blair government opposed his bid because it felt Verhofstadt would favour giving the EU more powers over national governments.

Media reports also have mentioned Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Luxembourg premier Jean-Claude Juncker as top candidates.

[AP / Expatica]