Although the debate about the Lisbon Treaty is starting to hot up there is one matter that has not got that much attention, yet, perhaps because it is for an election which may or may not proceed. Should the Irish people vote yes in the Lisbon Treaty, however, the post of President of the European Council, currently a unofficial role held by whatever government has the six-month rotating Presidency, will become permanent.
Article 15(6) of the Lisbon Treaty states:
“5. The European Council shall elect its President, by a qualified majority, for a term of two and a half years, renewable once. In the event of an impediment or serious misconduct, the European Council can end the President’s term of office in accordance with the same procedure.”
Although not granted any formal power, he or she would “chair and drive forward [the work of the European Council]” and “shall…ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy”, which would suggest a significant influence on the direction of that foreign policy, at a guess.
As Ross McKibbin says in a London Review of Book blog post yesterday, there appears to be a ‘softening up’ of public opinion in Europe for Tony Blair to get the new job.
“Although everyone is denying it, European public opinion is obviously being softened up, especially by the Kinnockian wing of the Labour party, for Blair’s emergence as the first full-time president of Europe. And although in a rational world his election would seem self-evidently absurd, given his record, it is being put about that many European leaders – including, improbably, Sarkozy – are enthusiastic.
McKibbin is referring specifically to the endorsement on 15th of July last of Blair as a candidate by Lady Kinnock but the softening up has been on the go for a while.
For example, on the 5th of April 2009, the London Independent wrote:
“Tony Blair has emerged as the leading candidate to become the first permanent president of the European Union after Gordon Brown gave his grudging blessing to the plan. The former prime minister has stepped up his campaign for the job, which he wants to use to build a bridge between Europe and the new Obama administration.”
“Other European leaders are also broadly supportive because they want a high-profile figure to represent the 27-nation bloc in the new alliance with the US administration. Mr Blair remains a popular figure in the US.
After initially trying to block Mr Blair as a possible candidate last year, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has thrown his weight behind the former prime minister.”
The significance of a President Blair with such a potential influence over the implementation of common EU foreign policy is that it will reinforce the connection between the US and Europe, especially with regard to that pesky military alliance known as Nato. As McKibbin notes:
“[The US] wants an EU that is the European arm of Nato; and not much more than an extension of Nato. That also is what Blair wants and has never made much effort to conceal it. Blair’s election would signify the capitulation of the EU to Nato and its final subordination to American foreign policy.”
The news that Tony Blair odds on getting the job are increasing will no doubt upset those who imagined that our own Bertie Ahern could be the First President. Strangely, the wikipedia page for the President of the European Council lists Bertie ahead of Blair and contains a description of our former Taoiseach’s political powers that reads more like an entry on a job application form than an accurate assessment of his real political worth:
“Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern’s reputation for economic turnaround and as a proven peacemaker may help Ahern become a viable candidate for the post of European Union president, a job set to be created next year. The former Taoiseach of Ireland has been mentioned numerous times for the role. Major Bookmaker Bet 24, puts the odds of Ahern filling the role at 10-1. Ahern helped the Irish economy more than double in size. His term in office has been recognized as a period of economic growth in Ireland, known as the Celtic Tiger. Increased prosperity and a better standard of living were the main results of the Celtic Tiger economy, alongside low levels of unemployment.”
With such favourable numbers it is hardly surprising that resistance has been mounted. Recently, an online petition has been set up at stopblair.eu, the text of which begins:
“We, European citizens of all origins and of all political persuasions, wish to express our total opposition to the nomination of Tony Blair to the Presidency of the European Council.”
So far it has 32,006 signatures and rising.
But considering that Ireland has been provided assurances that our neutrality will be protected under Lisbon, why should we worry about whether the war mongering, Nato fiend Blair is President or not?
Well there is the argument that Ireland’s assurances really amount to very little, and that while the ‘conscription to a pan European army’ was a red herring from the beginning, the very real concerns of those who argue that we should vote no to protect our neutrality are not simply based on an objection to Ireland’s direct involvement in a European defense force but in its necessary support of and cooperation with the European Defence Agency, and by extention Nato.
As Andy Storey of Afri argued on these pages recently:
“The Lisbon Treaty makes no reference to the requirement of a UN Mandate for an EU intervention; Ireland continues to insist that its own troops would never be deployed without such a mandate, but there is nothing to prevent troops from other countries (unavoidably backed up by Irish planning and financial resources) drawing on the support of the EU infrastructure to launch such an intervention. In contrast to its lip service to the UN (rhetorically cited, but substantively absent), the protocol on ‘structured co-operation’ declares that “a more assertive union [EU] role … will contribute to the vitality of a renewed Atlantic Alliance [NATO].” Many commentators have concerns about enhancing the vitality of an alliance – NATO – that, amongst other regressive features, retains a commitment to the ‘first use’ of nuclear weapons, and which has pursued an aggressive policy, involving substantial civilian casualties, in Afghanistan.
Turning to the European Defence Agency (EDA), the most relevant article in Lisbon is 28A:
“Member States shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities. The Agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments, (hereinafter referred to as “the European Defence Agency”) shall identify operational requirements, shall promote measures to satisfy those requirements, shall contribute to identifying, and where appropriate, implementing any measure to strengthen the industrial and technological base of the defence sector, shall participate in defining a European capabilities and armaments policy and shall assist the Council in evaluating the improvement of military capabilities”.
This is the first reference to the European Defence Agency (EDA) in an EU treaty, though the EDA has been in existence since 2004. As with the issue of PSC, yes, Ireland may chose not to participate, but the fact remains that the EDA is being given formal constitutional status and member states are, at the very least, being strongly encouraged to boost military spending. This constitutes a significant militarization of the EU regardless of whether Ireland opts out or not.
“The Treaty of Lisbon does not provide for the creation of a European army or for conscription to any military formation”.
Conscription has always been a red herring in this debate. As for whether there is, or is not, a European army as such, this is much less important than whether EU forces (however labeled) undertake joint military operations and what the nature of those operations will be. The ‘assurances’ make no reference to the extension, under Lisbon, of the range of tasks that EU forces may perform or the extension of the range of rationales that may be adduced for such operations;”(Emphasis mine)
John Palmer, as one of those on the left who has consistently argued for a yes vote for Lisbon wrote on the day of the Kinnock announcement in the Guardian that the council simply will not vote for Blair:
“Even if New Labour attaches its flag to the Blair cause, it is most unlikely to succeed. Apart from Berlusconi, all Blair’s other pro-Iraq war allies have been kicked out of office. It is true that the French president initially appeared to support Blair’s candidacy. But the volatile Sarkozy now appears to have had a change of heart. Meanwhile even among new EU member states in central and eastern Europe, Blair’s standing has diminished, following the arrogant fashion in which the UK EU presidency of 2006 dealt with their need for budget support.
So who might be appointed in his place? Two names are in circulation – both social democrats but from different parts of Europe: the former Finnish prime minister Paavo Lipponen and Felipe Gonzales, the former Spanish premier. Their candidacies have to be seen in the context of the likely reappointment of the present lacklustre Portuguese conservative Jose Manuel Barroso as president of the commission. This leaves the important post of EU “foreign minister” to be filled – maybe by a French candidate.
So why, against these odds, would the Brown government go public in backing a candidate who is far from being the bookies’ favourite?”
Clearly Palmer hasn’t been checking in with Paddy Power. Neither Lipponen or Gonzales appear in the short list. Short answer to that is, never trust a bookie. Of course, if Ireland doesn’t ratify the treaty there may not be a job for Blair to take come January. However, if the odds are likely to get any higher, I wonder if the Irish people might try and shorten them. Either way, I’m not putting any money on it.
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