Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair missed his chance to be the first EU president, with members selection the more low-key Belgium Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy for the job.
Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair lost his shot at the European Union presidency Thursday, when the UK withdrew its support for his nomination at a meeting of the group's 27 leaders in Brussels. Current Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy won the job.
Supporters of the Blair candidacy had argued that he was an internationally known figure that would give the new EU presidency the sort of star power and clout that could make it a powerful voice on the international stage.
The recent passage of the EU's Lisbon Treaty created the post of president and foreign minister, with the intent of giving a united foreign policy voice to a group of nations that have increasingly integrated their economies but have strongly independent foreign policies. Until now, the EU presidency has been rotated every six months between the group's national leaders. The new post will be for two-and-a-half years.
But the fact that the Blair candidacy was being pushed by a British Labour government that is expected to be dumped in favor of the conservative Tories in elections next year undermined his bid – as did Blair's past vigorous support for the unpopular Iraq war.
A larger factor at play may have been the fact that a number of European nations (France and Germany) were uncomfortable with creating a foreign policy voice that could swamp that of their own leaders – allowing heavyweights like Britain to drown out the voices of their partners. In other words, Blair was seen as having too much star power.
In the choice of Mr. Van Rompuy, the president will be a low-key center right politician who is well-respected in regional circles as a consensus builder, but is relatively unknown on other continents.