Comment at end
29th November, 2009
MURDERING BRITAIN AS WELL AS BLAIR
Before we investigate more fully this ‘murder most foul’, MEET BARROSO’S EU COMMISSION 2009-2014. These names and faces ARE important to all Europeans and will become moreso.
INTRODUCING THE VICE-PRESIDENT
It may have escaped your notice but Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security, has without even trying, leapt over REAL political heavyweights to become in a politicised instant the Vice-President of the Barroso EU Commission.
To paraphrase – never in the field of EU political history has so much been given away to such an unknown by so few. Christmas certainly came early for Baroness Ashton at a personal level. Being in the right place at the right time certainly worked in her case. At a political level, Britain got a pair of socks.
For Britain to dwell on this Ashton (and Rompuy) mistake for long is counter productive. We are where we are.
And in any case we would be looking at the wrong mistake. The most significant of Barroso’s new committee for Britain is actually a Frenchman, Michel Barnier, who now runs the portfolio for the Internal Market & (Financial) Services. You may notice that the word “Financial” is omitted at the commission’s official website!
Excerpt, FT: Gordon Brown has failed in a last-ditch attempt to head off a key appointment on the European Commission, giving France a central role in recasting Europe’s post-crisis banking and financial services sector.
The prime minister pleaded with José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, in a call late on Thursday to strip financial regulation from the coveted internal market portfolio.
But Mr Barroso rebuffed Britain’s request and instead rewarded months of intense lobbying from Paris by offering the portfolio intact to Michel Barnier, the former French foreign minister.
This gives Barnier enormous power to influence and even shape British economic policy.
In his quiet moments Brown may actually wish that Blair had sacked him years ago and had taken Britain into the euro, both of which were Blair’s aims, according to Steve Richards via Chris Mullins, via Alan Milburn, a strong Blairite. It has been a steep learning curve for Brown over Europe, undesirable as it was that he was ever in a position to have to learn. The lessons had already been learned by the elected prime minister. With Blair the power should have remained, with the side-effect that Brown could have concentrated at an earlier stage and without distraction on Britain’s economy and on firming up its credentials.
Geoff Hoon, another committed Blairite, was a name thrown into the EU jobs melting pot – at the last minute – for the post which Ashton took. Hoon and Mandelson, Blairites both, were favoured by Brown ABOVE Ashton in a vain attempt to keep some Blairism and even Brownism alive, and to lend some authority to OUR representation. So Ashton was actually our FOURTH choice, after Miliband, Mandelson and Hoon. Fourth in the running don’t even get a bronze medal! But Ashton, for reasons best known to Merkel and Sarkozy, has received gold.
The Blair-opposing Conservatives, guided mainly by the historical personal grudges of William Hague and a fear that a Blair presidency would strengthen Brown at the next general election, may even be ruing their intransigence over their opposition to the world’s most famous Brit. Instead we now have an unknown Belgian and an even lesser known Brit determining our future. To add to this, a Frenchman renowned for being against Britain’s ideas on the free market.
How counter-intuitive that the British Tories were instrumental or at the least in as much as they mattered supportive in the destruction of Blair’s presidency bid and thus Britain’s free market capitalism. And this unprincipled lot want to run our country!?
(See Tories accuse Brown of selling out the city in deal with France. WOW! Only Brown?)
There is no doubt, NO DOUBT at all, that Blair as EU President would have been far, FAR better for Britain’s interests, even the Tories’ interests, than will be Rompuy and Ashton.
The murder most foul was not only of the pro-Europe Blair’s political ambitions but of Britain’s economic ascendancy, an ascendancy put firmly in train by Blair & Brown since 1997.
Richards: ‘In his diaries Chris Mullin reports a conversation with Blair’s close ally, Alan Milburn, during the build up to war. Milburn told Mullin that after the conflict Blair would be so strong that he would sack Gordon Brown as Chancellor. In Britain war leaders tend to be popular and there was much talk in the immediate aftermath of a “Baghdad Bounce” for Blair.
Blair led the domestic coalition of support that he felt most comfortable with, partly because he thought he would challenge it once: when he took up what he regarded as his historic mission to join the euro. It was in this context that he was uncharacteristically relaxed about media attacks that portrayed him as “Bush’s poodle”. He told allies: “At least they won’t be able to accuse me of being anti-American when we have the referendum on the euro”.
Shortly after the war, in the summer of 2003, Blair turned his mind to the euro and was livid when Brown as Chancellor placed impossible obstacles in front of him. He wanted to prove then that he was as much a pro-European as he was pro-Bush.’
The ongoing debate amongst British economists and the ‘necessary’ cuts many o fthem espouse may more easily throw our economic future into the hands of this non-free marketer.
THAT should please the Tories no end, I’m sure!
Murder? You reap what you sow.
MURDER MOST FOUL
I realise that many, in their simplistic way, will think that ‘killing off’ Blair sounds like a good idea. But not, perhaps if he takes with him to his political grave Britain’s freedom to prosper, or even to fail at times to prosper. It’s Britain’s freedom to decide on our own economy that it is at stake with the demise murder of Blair’s presidency hopes.
Let me put my cards on the table. I am, or WAS a committed pro-European. No longer.
But in the recent “decision” on the top EU posts there has been something afoot within Europe to keep Britain’s economic model at bay as well as keeping the best-known European in the world away from Europe’s power-base.
For ten years Britain’s economy had been strong. London had become the centre of the free market, even leaving the USA in its wake. We had attracted business from all corners of the world with our deregulated marketplace. Insurance and finance markets of all shades and from all countries bloomed like never before in the City.
That was due to the combined if at times uneasy combined guidance of Blair & Brown.
Then came the collapse of the markets, beginning inside America. It was bound to affect us, the strongest financial centre, more than any others. And so it has. Now it would seem that our EU colleagues wish to use this catastrophe as a reason for calling for regulation in Britain which is anathema to Blair and Brown and presumably British Tories.
And the widespread ignorance over the workings of the markets and over the new powers of the EU is such that they may well have a free run at it.
None of this is to say that those of us who are pro-Europeans were wrong about the whole shooting match of the EU. In principle I still prefer it to the Little Britain mentality on the edges of Europe. But it IS to say that we may have been fooled into believing that despite Britain being known throughout the 27 states as the envied power-house behind economical sustainability we have been hoodwinked into believing it was a fait accompli that OUR model would prevail.
We were also hoodwinked into believing that the leader that led us to such success and who had the ear of the world would be respected and even used to bring the same changes and success to the rest of Europe.
It was clearly never thus.
And today Sarkozy has admitted it here
Merkel, as usual, is saying little on this. But HER intentions have always been clear:
1. to keep Germany at the top of the EU economies nudging Britain down, and …
2. to keep Blair, “Mr Flash” away from the limelight. She couldn’t possibly compete.
The Franco/German model is likely to be revisited in the future when their model fails, as it likely will. But perhaps not until they have taken Britain down with the international trade and financial plug with them.
It is most unfortunate that NOW the Tories see the error of their ways and the first major consequence of failing to back Tony Blair as EU president. A side-effect to his role, if president, would have been to show that a free, de-regulated market WAS and IS the way forward. That worry was of immense concern to the regulators in much of the EU.
So how, when did murder come into it? Well, possibly some months ago when Sarkozy was rumoured to be cooling on Blair and saying something (hardly new) about Britain not being part of the single currency. This was hardly news to the French president and has always been the case, even when he was singing Blair’s praise for the job a year ago.
WHEN DID BLAIR & BROWN KNOW BLAIR HAD NO CHANCE OF THE EU PRESIDENCY?
The summit concluded quickly on Thursday, but only after weeks of horse trading across the EU and a bitter row in London. Blair told Brown that his chances were over after a second – and decisive – phone call with Merkel late last week. Merkel told Blair she bore him no ill will but that the job would have to go to a leader from the dominant centre right.
“Tony informed Gordon at the end of last week … that he saw no realistic chance of getting agreement around his candidacy,” a Whitehall source said.
Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, who heads the EU grouping of Labour and social democratic parties, told the Guardian that Europe’s two big political tribes, the Christian and social democrats, agreed months ago to split the jobs between them. He said Brown had known for some time that Blair had no chance.
“There was an expectation that at a certain time there should come a change from Downing Street… We all knew it couldn’t be otherwise,” added Rasmussen.
Senior ministers told Brown that Britain’s interests would be best served by securing a major economic portfolio in the European commission. Brown, who agrees that new legislation on financial services could pose a threat to the City of London, did draw up contingency plans for an economic job: retain trade, or aim for the internal market or competition policy portfolios.
No 10 had not lost hope that Shriti Vadera, an ex-minister now working for the G20, or the FSA chief Adair Turner might be persuaded to take one of these posts.
But a second group of ministers advised Brown that an economic job would have played badly in the media after Britain had made such a great play for the presidency. Brown therefore kept Blair’s name in the frame in hope of increasing UK leverage to secure the high representative post.
“There were two groups in government,” a key figure said. “There was the real world argument – the best interests of the UK are served by securing a strong economic portfolio to protect the City. Then there were the media managers.”
PRESIDENT & HIGH COMMISSIONER SORTED … BUT …
YOU DIDN’T THINK IT WAS ALL OVER THEN, DID YOU?
As the last of the posts are distributed this one position WILL have a HUGE impact on us here in Britain.
For the first time, the French will now have a position which really could impact badly on us here in Britain. And I say this as a pro-European. Well, I was pro, until now. For the first time a high-powered position on trade, competition policy and internal market for financial services has gone to FRANCE.
We now have a man who is essentially protectionist, anti-London and anti-market. This WILL impact badly on Britain’s position in trade, free marketry, financial services.
Is this what Angie had over Sarko? Is THIS what persuaded him to turn away from Blair?
GRABBING BRITAIN WHERE IT HURTS AND SQUEEZING HARD
A commenter at my site, DC, suggests we have been tricked into sacrificing Blair for the High Commissioner job. They were clearly happy to give us that because FRANCE was getting a regulator to limit Britain’s de-regulated market. As well as killing off Blair our political classes across ALL parties have been grabbed by the ***** and squeezed tight.
It is no wonder that Brown and Blair have been working so closely together. Leadership of a country which is more concerned about prosecuting a former prime minister than securing its economic interests deserves exactly what it is getting out of the EU settlement.
Gordon Brown should have just said “NON! NEIN!” – If we can’t have Tony in the presidency we don’t want any of these jobs.
For all the earnest talk of bringing the union closer to the 500 million people it serves, the secretive carve-up that brought “le ticket belgo-britannique” to the fore was at odds with the lofty values of transparency and accountability. Far from the best and brightest getting the jobs, the selection became a zero-sum game in which allegiance and political acceptability were overarching concerns. Although this was in many ways inevitable, the outcome prompted bewilderment. “We always knew this would boil down to the lowest common denominator. We didn’t realise the lowest common denominator would be so low,” said one EU source.
Van Rompuy – a consensus man of noted seriousness, but lacking in political pizzazz – had already emerged as favourite when the campaign of former British prime minister Tony Blair ran foul of European socialists. Six years after Blair aligned himself with George W Bush on the war path to Baghdad, it seems Iraq still rankles badly.
Yet the vision Blair offered for the presidency of the council was in line with the bloc’s high aim to stand side-by-side with the great powers in global affairs. This was akin to the role foreseen by former French president Valery Giscard D’Estaing, chief promoter of presidency proposal in the political forum whose plans are encapsulated in the Lisbon Treaty. By way of a “modest suggestion” last weekend, Giscard put forth the proposition that EU leaders should imagine their chosen candidate forcefully defending EU positions before Barack Obama or Chinese president Hu Jintao when making their decision.
The grand vision was brushed away as Van Rompuy’s candidacy gained strength. His favoured status during the latter phase of the race implied most EU leaders had adopted a modest prospect for the post, looking inward rather than outward.
- Gavin Hewitt – Back to the future
- Independent’s Andrew Grice (in his innocence): “Blair beaten but coup for Brown.” What a wally! Grice, I mean.
- A good analysis at the BBC on the complexities of the internal wranglings over leadership/direction/job descriptions.
- Euro Politics: A couple of grey figures at the head of the EU
So why has the EU turned its back on the man who might have supplied the stardust, Tony Blair?
The simple answer is that for most of the 27 EU leaders, Blair was too big for the job. They feared he would have his own agenda and overshadow them. Many saw him as an over-close ally of America who had divided Europe when he helped George W. Bush to prosecute the Iraq war.
Others distrusted him as the market-oriented epitome of the Anglo-Saxon model on economic affairs when Europe prefers a more consensual approach with economic social partners.
There was also one other key factor in the horse-trading stitch-up process by which the EU leaders made their choice. The other leaders, who can read the opinion polls, have clearly taken the view that Blair’s successor as Labour Party leader and prime minister in Britain, Gordon Brown, is heading for defeat at the general election due in Britain by June of next year.
EU OBSERVER – on Catherine Ashton – Ms Ashton, who started her political career with an appointment as chair of the Hertfordshire Health Authority has never been elected to public office, with sources saying she was one of three candidates put forward by the UK government, along with current British business secretary Peter Mandelson, and Geoff Hoon, a former defence secretary.
I spent a couple of years as Tony Blair’s rep at the Party of European Socialists (PES). It was led then, as now, by former Danish PM Poul-Nyrup Rasmussen. […] Tony (and therefore UK Labour, and me) had supported Guliano D’Amato of Italy against Poul to lead the PES in succession to Robin Cook. Poul won, and this may have in it’s own way have been significant in Tony Blair’s failure to become EU Overlord yesterday.
The PES suffers from the fact that for most of the time, most of the members are in opposition, so they’re inclined to indulge themselves. On the other hand, my role was to ignore not only self-indulgence but also commonsense. At my last meeting, in Porto, I had to attend a meeting to agree the line the leaders would take at lunch – the biggy of the moment was denying the use of word ‘constitution’ and instead keeping the word ‘treaty’ in the final statement. I spoke about the ‘importance’ of this point (i.e. for UK Labour) and my finely-honed political instincts told me I may have just swung it. Er, no, 1-26. Again! Poul tried to get me to be reasonable (the vote had to be unanimous to I was effectively veto-ing 26 members), as did everyone else, but reason didn’t enter into it. I suddenly understood why it was me who’d been sent.
At lunch, the only PES party leader not present was Tony Blair. John Prescott had turned up, memorably broken his teeth during his televised speech (and, actually, charmed everyone in his utterly inimitable way) and gone off to the dentist. I was asked to attend the leaders lunch, but had turned up in jeans and T-shirt ready for a speedy departure. It was descending into farce. A striking aspect of that Porto session, and others in Brussels as I recall, was the striking denunciation of Tony Blair by the PES-group leader in the European Parliament, Martin Schultz. Frankly, Schultz spoke for the majority of PES member parties – there was a lot of nodding.
The Qatar Peninsula :
Blair, Middle East envoy since leaving office two years ago, will almost certainly “bounce back” and take another major international role, they said.
The 56-year-old was at one stage frontrunner for the new European Union job, but was dropped in favour of low-profile Belgian premier Herman van Rompuy, chosen for the new EU job in Brussels on Thursday night. “I think it will be something of a relief,” Professor Richard Whitman of the respected London thinktank Chatham House said, citing two reasons. “The first being the consequences which it would have had for him financially, in terms of loss of earnings… but the second reason would be that he wouldn’t have had anything like the freedom to speak his own mind.”
EVEN MORE RELATED
- Euro Politics – A couple of grey figures at the head of the EU
- Boston Globe: Europe’s bland new leaders
- Historical – de-regulation, Blair 1998
- Merkel is now moving to prevent a credit crunch in Germany
So a former French agriculture minister has power over our economy and there is no President Blair to help us.
But we’re all right. Barnier says he understands the importance of the City of London to Britain and Europe. Would that be in the same way that Sarkozy understands that Britain and France are no longer at battleships ready state? We are now “the big losers” in Europe, according to Napoleon … Sarkozy.