Could Tony Blair be a good leader for Europe?

November 15, 2009

Tony Blair

Could Tony Blair be a good leader for Europe? A Global Issue Evaluated by Dr Kamel Mnisri

The European presidency is currently the hot question as it is the first time European leaders are going to elect an EU president to speak on their behalf. Tony Blair’s nomination has been supported by the UK government.

From a leadership perspective, Tony Blair seems to be a strong candidate. His advocates can point to several significant achievements demonstrating leadership qualities. His premiership earned him an important place in both UK and international history. He was the youngest person to become PM and the only one to win three terms of governance. He is known as a good communicator and good negotiator. He was one of the peace makers in Northern Ireland., he ran the economy well and started to reform the public service. Internationally, he pushed for the EU enlargement and was appointed head of the Middle East envoy, working on behalf of US, Russia, the UN and the EU.

Detractors would argue that Tony Blair is seen by European leaders as too pro-American. The decision to follow the US and enter into war with Iraq discredited him nationally and internationally. In addition, is it relevant to have an EU president from a country that does not use the Euro?

Leadership challenges

The candidature presents more than one leadership challenge. It is an opportunity for the UK, which does not have a representative in such a high-profile position internationally. It is also a challenge for Tony Blair, as an unexpected failure could be detrimental for him and for his past as brilliant politician. As for the Labour party, having a former Labour Prime Minister at the head of the EU could be a good challenge if Labour is defeated at the general election. Moreover, it is a challenge for the Conservative party who are hostile towards the Lisbon Treaty and the EU presidency.

In the meantime, is it an advantage to have a high profile figure at the head of the EU? It is agreed that Tony Blair has the experience and the competencies for the job, but his leadership style seems to be predictable as he has already invested much nationally and internationally. In addition, the international political scene has changed over the last two years and the challenges are not the same as before: the election of Obama, the financial crisis, the new dimensions of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the conflict in the Middle East and the re-election of the Iranian leader. Now, would it not be better for the EU to have a low profile figure to negotiate with the rest of the world? A politician who has not been involved in a high stake political games of influence and power?

Other candidates

The recent objection of France and Germany to Tony Blair opened the door for other candidates. The Belgium Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy, the former Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Tapio Lipponen and especially the Prime Minister of Luxembourg and the head of the EuroGroup, Jean-Claude Juncker. He has the support of Germany and more likely of France as both country’s leaders agreed to support the same candidate. But, is he ready to give up with his position as prime minister to lead the EU?

Moreover, why not a female at the head of the EU? The Irish Mary Robinson has the profile. She is the first female, President of the Republic of Ireland and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. In addition, the Republic of Ireland is more committed to the EU than the UK: EURO and recently the Lisbon treaty ratification.

The question is whether other European leaders be happy with Tony Blair as EU president. The odds are in Tony Blair’s favour as the other candidates put forward don’t match his political career. In addition, leading the EU and its 500 million citizens requires a charismatic leader who would be listened to in Washington, Beijing, Moscow and New Delhi. Here is the dilemma of the EU Leadership: an unpopular and discredited but charismatic leader or an internationally unknown figure?

If Tony Blair does get the job we will learn whether he is the leader the EU deserves and what that tells us about characteristics of a ‘good’ leader.

Acknowledgement

To Professors Jeffery Ramsbottom and Tudor Rickards for their advice and guidance.