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June 2011, Week 2

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Fri, 10 Jun 2011 16:08:51 -0400
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Tony Blair as Elected President of Europe? A Dreadful
Thought

    European elites have to engage with ordinary
    people - the 'big bang' approach of an elected
    president would be a disaster

By Diane Abbott
The Guardian (UK)
June 9, 2011

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/09/tony-blair-president-europe?INTCMP=SRCH

A cold shiver must have passed down many a spine this
morning at the sight of Tony Blair all over the
nation's media, arguing with quiet fervency that Europe
needs an elected president. Because there can be no
doubt which particular bronzed globetrotter he has in
mind for the role.

Blair seems to forget that European monetary union was
actually less popular with the British public when he
left office than when he came in. If he could not
convince the British people of the significance of the
European project, it is a mystery how he thinks he can
persuade the world. It is also worth noting the policy
areas he thinks a European president should drive
forward: tax, the single market, defence, immigration
and crime. He would want to promote exactly the same
neoliberal policies that he peddled as prime minister
of Britain in his (hoped-for) new role as president of
Europe. Anything more likely to provoke basically
social democrat and/or Christian democrat countries to
fight to get out of the European Union could not be
imagined.

But the fundamental problem with Blair's proposal is
that it is an attempt to promote further European
integration with the top-down mechanism of an elected
president. Nothing has inspired more suspicion of the
European project among ordinary voters than these
attempts to promote integration by subterfuge. For
instance, economic and monetary union (EMU) never made
sense as an economic project. I know this because in
the 1990s I took part in a major inquiry into it as a
member of the Treasury select committee. The committee
had the opportunity to travel around Europe questioning
foreign ministers about EMU on (and off) the record.
None of them thought, even then, that the German
economy and "Mediterranean" economies like Greece were
going to converge any time soon. And everyone knew
that, without genuine economic convergence, EMU was an
accident waiting to happen. But EMU was seen as a means
of quietly progressing political integration.

Blair is proposing an elected president for 350 million
people. How could anyone possibly identify with such a
figure? How could they be made meaningfully
accountable? The fallout from EMU has actually
tarnished the European project. In the same way an
elected, but unaccountable, European president prancing
around on the world stage - possibly lending their
support to the invasion of some hapless Muslim country
- would feel undemocratic to ordinary Europeans. This
would not advance the cause of further European
integration one jot.

Further European integration may well be inevitable.
But there needs to be genuine debate. European
political elites need to bring ordinary people with
them. Above all it needs to be gradual. The "big bang"
approach of someone like Blair, with all his political
baggage, being elected president of the United States
of Europe would be disastrous.

No doubt Blair is dreaming of, once again, being at a
rostrum side by side with the US president. These were
the sort of press conferences, with the eyes of the
world on him, which he used to do with his friend
George Bush. No doubt he misses basking in the
attention and the sense of being a world power-broker.
But, for the sake of the sustainability of the European
Union, Blair must forgo his dreams.
________________

Diane Abbott is Member of Parliament for Hackney North
and Stoke Newington

guardian.co.uk c Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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