- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2008

Some European activists have found their ideal candidate for the first-ever de facto EU president: anybody but Tony Blair.

Although it targets the former British prime minister, the Web effort begun this month reflects more fundamental divisions across the 27-nation bloc over the future of the European Union, the power of Brussels and Britain’s hot-and-cold relations with its continental partners.

The divisions are so deep that Mr. Blair’s opponents come from both ends of the political spectrum, with both supporters of a stronger union and Euro-skeptics denouncing his proposed candidacy.

The online movement went live Tuesday at www.stopblair.eu. It cites Mr. Blair’s allegiance to President Bush, support of the Iraq invasion, attacks on civil liberties and failure to adopt the euro and other EU policies in Britain.

“In order to lead his country into war, Mr. Blair made systematic use of fabricated evidence and the manipulation of information,” according to a petition on the Web site, published in nine languages.

The new post of “president of the European Council” — the European Union”s executive arm — is set to open in January under the Reform Treaty, a diluted version of the failed EU constitution.

The treaty signed by EU leaders in December is awaiting ratification through referendum or parliament by the member states. The British Parliament votes on it in March.

The success of the protest has not been determined. Under the new treaty, 1 million signatures can start a “legislative initiative.” The petitioners have about 5,000.

Mr. Blair, who stepped down last summer after a decade in power, is one of several candidates touted for the new position. His most prominent supporter is French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

“There is no campaign and no campaign team. The treaty hasn’t even been ratified yet. Tony Blair is focused on his role in the Middle East,” said Matt Doyle, a spokesman for the former prime minister.

Mr. Blair is an envoy from the Quartet of peace negotiators, consisting of the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union.

The debate over Mr. Blair’s candidacy reflects the unresolved issues for the European Union as a whole.

To some, the bloc represents a fledgling United States of Europe. Others cringe at the potential loss of national sovereignty.

“The European Union should never have developed beyond being more than a loose trading confederation of independent nation states. As an institution, it is both corrupt and profoundly undemocratic and now threatens the independence of the very countries it professes to represent. It does not merit any kind of president at all, least of all the utterly corrupt and self-seeking Mr. Blair,” wrote petitioner Richard Morgan from Britain.

On the other side of the divide, French petitioner Jean-Charles Boutillion wrote that Mr. Blair is insufficiently committed to EU ideals.

“The president of the European Union cannot be against its flag, against its hymn, against its motto, against its currency, against its [border policies], against a unified foreign policy,” Mr. Boutillion said.

The European Union”s identity crisis came to a head in 2005 with the spectacular collapse of the proposed EU constitution, rejected by French and Dutch voters in national referendums.

Under the latest treaty, EU officials are seeking a strong personality to fill the president’s role. They will meet in June to decide the job’s specifications and powers.

Britain remains divided over the issue of further integration with Europe.

William Hague the shadow foreign minister and former leader of the opposition Conservative Party in Britain said: “There shouldn’t be a president of Europe in any case. The EU should be run by countries, not some central figure. Many Europeans think [Mr. Blair] did a poor job of representing the EU to Britain, and most Britons certainly think he did a very poor job of standing up for Britain in Europe.”

Besides, Mr. Hague added, “Tony Blair’s qualifications for the job are not obvious.”

Robert Oulds, director of the multiparty Euroskeptic Bruges Group, accuses Mr. Blair of surrendering the British rebate against national interest to curry favor with other EU leaders.

Before the rebate was dropped, Britain received billions of dollars each year from the European Union to compensate for lost income because of agricultural subsidies in continental Europe.

“What price we are paying for Tony Blair’s ambition. He must not be rewarded for his avarice,” Mr. Oulds said.

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