Could Tony Blair be a good leader for Europe?

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.


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

11 Responses to Could Tony Blair be a good leader for Europe?

  1. Tudor,

    Why does “the EU and its 500 million citizens requires a charismatic leader who would be listened to in Washington, Beijing, Moscow and New Delhi”? Does China require a “charismatic leader” to be heard?

    Blair’s charisma, marketing skills and self-belief exceed his analytical ability and honesty (with – as you hint – Iraq the main exhibit). In this respect, Blair is somewhat like Hitler.


  2. Tudor,

    A follow-up comment!

    If you were in “Washington, Beijing, Moscow and New Delhi” and Blair (as the “leader” of Europe)came to you, would you not sometimes wonder who he was really speaking for? Was it really the European view, or was it the view of the “messianic” Blair?

    From an internal organisational perspective, the “leader” of Europe is never going to have the sort of leadership power allowed a “national leader”. The individual stake-holders (ie the nation states)will need to be kept in line and continually consulted (no matter what any internal treaty may say). The “leader” will always need to tread carefully! And maybe Blair is capable of doing this (Albert Speer wrote:“To the imagination of the outsider Hitler was a keen, quick, brutally governing dictator. It is difficult to believe that in reality he edged along hesitantly, almost fearfully. But that was the case.”) But what if he is not?


  3. Tudor says:

    It will be interesting to learn what Kamel’s students think. I undestand he will be trying it out next year as a discussion case.

    Just a little point: I think I suggested the title of the post, which mischieviously focuses attention on the possibility of Blair the Supreme Leader.

    One of the motivators of the EU is the fear of just such a leader emerging and seeking absolute power as Hitler did. If nothing else, the President will
    be a communicator of that vision and the great persuader rather that a wannabe Dictator.

  4. Several things stick in my mind about Tony Blair:

    1. The euphoria I and others felt when the Labour party got into government. In retrospect, there was a floating, gliding quality to that feeling. On May 1st, 1997, we welcomed him very warmly, almost incredulous that this was happening and we’d helped brough it it about. This was not about one person’s qualities – we were a very willing, wanting audience.

    2. Playing the trust card is dangerous, and the game takes place near a steep cliff: “I’m a pretty straight kind of guy…”

    3. Having said all that, personal qualities count for something. Blair, it seems to me, needs a big cause that matters to him, else his nature is to hanker for something new and move on… What’s so appealing about the job, Tony? Share your vision with us – we could do with something to galvanise Europe.

    4. In his early days, Blair was lacerated for not making decisions. Later he was flayed for being stubborn and going against our wishes on Iraq, though the public was split down the middle on whether to go to war.

    And, somehow, despite him being incredibly successful at winning elections and being in our presence for 10 years, we know so little about him as a person. What instances do I remember of him speaking with spontaneity and spirit…?

  5. Kamel Mnisri says:

    Good Analysis Jeff and good point Tudor.
    I assume that the big opposition to Tony Blair will be French and German. In any case, the French and the German Leaders will vote for someone who is driven less by personal ambitions and more by the Unity of Europe.

    ….But if Tony Blair is elected although his unpopularity and discredibity, what that tells us?

    I will try to use this as discussion case for the next Global Events and Leadership Workshop. I will let you know what the students think.


  6. Tim says:

    Sorry to be picky – but I think Pitt the younger was significantly “younger” than Tony when he became PM
    (oop – Wikipedia as a source – Bad Tim 🙂

  7. Tudor says:

    Thanks Tim. See amendment now in post.

    Best wishes

    [TR as Editor]

  8. Tudor says:

    Great contributions. Word Press (or my version) still not brilliant at providing discussion threads. LWD has tended to lack comments, and it’s nice to see one of our contributors fostering debate.

    PS Jeff: It might be worth pointing out that one of your books compared board-room tyrants with Mao, Hitler, Napoleon, and Ataturk. Adolf et al wouldn’t have sprung to my mind so swiftly as identifiers for T.B.

  9. Tudor,

    One of the main themes of my book is that the dictator who has longevity – as did Stalin and the other five men in my study – also has many other sides.

    When the writer Emil Ludwig asked Stalin why “everybody” in his country feared him, Stalin rejoined: “Do you really believe a man could maintain his position of power for fourteen years merely by intimidation? Only by making people afraid?”

    You could add to the list: Castro, Mugabe etc


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  11. Tudor says:

    Yes, it is tempting to demonize leaders and simplify their behaviours into the symbolic figures of good or evil.
    Even ‘nodding Donkeys’ need carrots …

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