Poor old Tony. Nicolas Sarkozy last week suggested that “the names that first come out of the hat are not necessarily those that are finally chosen”, signaling that – after initial championing of Blair’s candidacy for the Presidency of the European Council – he has crossed over to Angela Merkel’s position that the ex-British PM perhaps shouldn’t get the job. This is part of a wider rapproachment between the two counties, between whom relations have been strained recently. The bizarre ‘political balance’ bargain made across Europe – that the President should be right-leaning and the ‘foreign minister’, or High Representative, left-leaning – looks set to ally with this renewed Franco-German axis potentially to scupper Tony Blair’s long-held ambition to take the EU’s top job.
All this in a week in which, unusually, Europe dominated British political debate – and, even more unusually, British domestic politics impinged upon the highest levels of EU wrangling. David Milliband’s candidacy for the High Representative position (which incidentally would help his increasingly favoured brother Ed to stand for the Labour leadership free of David’s shadow) is strengthened as Blair’s is weakened – two Brits in the top jobs would, naturally, have been impossible. Milliband’s championing of the European mainstream is not just an attempt to draw domestic votes away from David Cameron. It is also surely a wading into EU issues for purposes of increasing his profile within it; even more specifically, his attack on the Tories will be well received by many in the European elite club. Both of the jobs upon which argument has been focused this week will be created by the final ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, which of course the Tories oppose. This opposition, however, has strayed into the realms of intervention, angering many in Europe committed to the Treaty. Domestic British wrangling over Tory positioning has become central to decisions being made about wider European matters.
As ever, this sort of thing fails to move the British people. In a poll for today’s Sunday Telegraph, most of them say they wouldn’t want to see Blair as President; almost half say the same thing about Milliband and his ambitions. But this will again inform European decision-making: the prospect of a rabidly eurosceptic Tory government in a few short months will pose a clear problem for Brussels, and Milliband is emerging – far more now than Blair – as a candidate able to tackle and deal with it. Whether the strength of his present attacks are rather weakening his ability to win concessions from a future Prime Minister Cameron is another matter; the tight concentration of big personalities, shameless Tory activism, and traditional British scepticism are having their effect in a Europe realigning for a new era. Blair has yet to give up on being the figurehead of that new period; but his self-styled heirs both looked this week like men with future influence as much as historical gravitas.