Tony Blair seeks ‘pro-European role’ to fight rise of populism

Pubblicato: 31/05/2014 in Senza categoria

Da FT 31 maggio

Tony Blair is looking for a prominent pan-European role in the fight against euroscepticism as he seeks to re-engage with the British political debate.

The former UK prime minister offered his services in a “pro-European role” during a meeting with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor on Tuesday, according to people familiar with the matter, just hours after the result of elections which saw a rise of anti-EU parties across the continent.

His office sees him acting as an unpaid advocate of the benefits of the EU but also of the need for it to reform itself. He is not angling to be considered for the position of Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, who is to step down in November, his allies say, despite having aspired to the role four years ago.

Mr Blair will step up his pro-European rhetoric on Monday in a speech at the CBI in London, when he is expected to renew his call for politicians to resist the rise of populism.

Sir John Major, the former Conservative prime minister, acknowledged the growing strength of anti-EU sentiment on Friday as he warned that many voters resented the way that the union had changed since the early days of the common market.

Backing a referendum on Britain’s EU membership, he said: “I think it’s necessary to have a reaffirmation of our membership in order to remove this bitterness that there has been in British politics about Europe for so long”.

One ally of Mr Blair said his meeting with Ms Merkel was a “general catch-up” with Europe and the Middle East the main topics of discussion. But Mr Blair also made clear that he was willing to step up to a high-profile role defending the EU from its increasingly vocal critics.

Since leaving Westminster, the former prime minister has juggled a thriving advisory business with his charitable interests and role as Middle East envoy for a quartet of western powers.

Yet questions over whether Mr Blair still has ambitions for a prominent role in Europe have never gone away. In 2012 he called for Europe to have an elected president, saying the role was needed as part of a “grand bargain” to save the eurozone from collapse.

Mr Blair is known to have angled for the role of president of the European Council when it first came up in 2009, although in the end it was never offered to him. Mr Blair told the Financial Times in 2012 he sometimes wished he had taken the position and gone out on a “more public campaign” in support of Europe.

But his allies say the Van Rompuy role is “not on the agenda” and Mr Blair does not want a second tilt at the job.

Any senior formal position in the EU would entail Mr Blair giving him up many of his lucrative advisory roles. By contrast that would not be the case for an informal pro-European role, Mr Blair believes.

However, the former prime minister does not have the backing of Downing Street. One Number 10 official said the government was focused on getting the right person for the European Commission presidency rather than creating new roles.

Mr Blair came out fighting this week after the established political parties woke up to find that populist anti-EU groups had taken a slice of the vote across Europe.

“When the world is changing so fast, to end up having the debate dominated by anti-immigrant feeling and a desire to get Britain out of Europe, these are not solutions for the 21st century,” he told Swedish television.

Mr Blair appeared on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday, praising Nick Clegg for making the pro-EU case and urging Labour to hold firm on immigration and Brussels.

Additional reporting: Stefan Wagstyl

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