- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2008

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH

LONDON — Tony Blair is to return to the front line of European politics in Paris this weekend — amid growing signs of a campaign to install him as the European Union’s first fully fledged president.

Separately, London’s Financial Times newspaper reported that Mr. Blair is expected to join U.S. bank JPMorgan Chase & Co. as a senior adviser, according to a person familiar with the situation.

JPMorgan declined to comment. The Financial Times in London first reported the move on its Web site, saying it would be the first of a series of positions Mr. Blair expects to take in the private sector.

Details of Mr. Blair’s duties with JPMorgan, the third-largest U.S. bank, were not immediately available.

Concerning the EU presidency, Mr. Blair agreed to speak alongside French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who actively is promoting the former British prime minister for a role that would make him the most influential figure in EU affairs.

Mr. Sarkozy told the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday that he talked with Mr. Blair over Christmas while both were vacationing in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheik.

While he refused to reveal details of their discussions, Mr. Sarkozy said he is “delighted” Mr. Blair agreed to attend the conference of his center-right Union for Popular Movement (UMP) party.

The president of the EU Council of Ministers — a position which might only require a three-day workweek — will earn a package worth around $391,000 a year and would make Mr. Blair the most important figure in EU politics.

Last October, Mr. Sarkozy said choosing Mr. Blair would be a “smart move” because he remains one of the bloc’s most outstanding figures.

The Treaty of Lisbon, approved in the Portuguese capital in October and signed in Brussels last month replaces the current rolling six-monthly presidencies with a longer-term president. The treaty, and the new office of president, will come into effect next year after it is ratified by all 27 member states.

Denis MacShane, a former minister for Europe in the British Foreign Office, said Tuesday that many in Europe think Mr. Blair is a “natural for the job.”

However, he said Mr. Blair’s support for the war in Iraq and Britain’s decisions not to take part in core EU projects, such as the common currency euro, might count against him when EU leaders vote later this year.

Mr. Blair’s speech at the UMP conference will be his most important since he quit as British prime minister in June, and he is expected to dwell on the European Union’s role in world affairs.

It will be followed by his attendance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, later this month, and an appearance soon afterward at a meeting of French Socialists.

A spokesman for Mr. Blair said he remains “fully focused” on his job as a Middle East peace envoy for the Quartet of powers — the European Union, United Nations, United States and Russia. But he refused to rule out Mr. Blair for the new EU post, which will begin in January next year.

Henry Samuel in Paris contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.