EU needs an elected leader: Blair

EUROPE needs an elected president with a democratic mandate to drive sweeping reforms and give the EU leadership standing on the world stage, Tony Blair says.

THE former British prime minister warned yesterday that the European Union risked losing out to the economic and military might of China, Brazil and India.

The popular consent enjoyed by a directly elected president of Europe — chosen by an electorate of more than 386 million from 27 countries — would give the EU clear leadership and enormous authority on the world stage, Mr Blair said. The post would represent a seismic development in the 50-year history of the EU and pave the way for sweeping economic reforms, including collaboration over tax policies.

“The rationale for Europe today is about power, not peace,” Mr Blair told The Times of London in an interview to mark the publication of the paperback edition of his autobiography.

Mr Blair set out five areas where the EU should forge closer links to “make us more powerful as a unit”: tax policy and fundamental reform of the social model; completion of the single market; forging a common energy policy; a common defence policy; and a common immigration and organised crime policy.

The former Labour leader also said the success of the Arab Spring was hanging in the balance and the West should prepare a massive and enduring economic support package akin to the European Marshall Plan of 1948 for states that embraced democracy. The Gaddafi regime was crumbling, but the allies faced a big task to rebuild Libya.

He said Labour leader Ed Miliband should embrace entrepreneurs and enterprise, be sceptical of the “Blue Labour” embrace of nostalgia and avoid the temptation to move the party to the Left.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, “seems a perfectly nice guy”, but there was a question about the durability of the ruling coalition with Conservatives, Mr Blair said.

“The problem (for the Lib Dems) is that it’s very hard to fight three elections to the Left of Labour and then end up in a Tory government.”

Mr Blair conceded a directly elected EU president had “no chance of being accepted at the present time”. But the British and Europeans needed to wake up to the growing economic powers of countries such as Indonesia, Brazil and China. “We won’t have the weight and influence a country like Britain needs unless we’re part of that European power as well,” he said. “Europe has a fantastic opportunity, but only if it’s prepared to reform and change radically.”

Mr Blair’s proposal would give a European president the largest electoral mandate in the world. At present, there is the President of the European Council, the Belgian Herman Van Rompuy, who was chosen by member governments of the EU. Mr Blair, ironically, was for a long time seen as a candidate for the position.

Mr Blair said voters had little love for the European Parliament, the one democratically elected EU body. Electing a president would give European citizens more of an affinity with the EU, he said.

“For Europe, the crucial thing is to understand that the only way that you will get support for Europe today is not on the basis of a sort of post-war view that the EU is necessary for peace.

“For my children’s generation, that is just a bizarre argument. They don’t see that as a real threat, that European nations will go to war with each other.

“But what they can understand completely is that in a world in particular in which China is going to become the dominant power of the 21st century, it is sensible for Europe to combine together, to use its collective weight in order to achieve influence.

“And the rationale for Europe today therefore is about power, not peace.”

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