Thursday, January 17, 2008

President of Europe

Nicolas Sarkozy wants Tony Blair to be the first president of Europe, a post to be created by the Lisbon Treaty. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and Édouard Balladur don't. For Giscard the problem is that Blair isn't "in phase with the majority in his own country" and "doesn't belong to a country that respects all European rules." He denies coveting the job for himself--too old, he says.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown seems to be warming toward Europe, taking a broader view than he took as Chancellor whose job of keeping the economy on an even keel would have been made more difficult, presumably, by the need to accommodate the euro. Is it fair to assume that he wouldn't be too keen, either, on seeing his old rival assume the EU chair?

So what's going on? Sarkozy appears to take Blair for a kindred spirit, a master of the media and familiar of the bully pulpit. Like Sarko, he harbors no a priori hostility to the United States--and surely too little suspicion of the American cousins for many of his would-be constituents. Sarko no doubt sees himself and Blair as a mediagenic tandem capable of transforming "Europe" into a foreign-policy megaphone that would amplify the French voice in world affairs.

Blair could be counted on, I imagine, not to meddle in economic matters, which were never to his taste. This perhaps explains why Giscard and Balladur are cool to him. They would prefer an EU president more concerned with imposing fiscal discipline on member countries, as well as someone more independent of the US. And old rancor toward Britain remains.

Will Sarko prevail on this? I think not. He had his way with DSK at the IMF. "Europe" will be reluctant to grant him too many favors, particularly in the wake of Sarkozy's rather impudent statement of his ambitions for France's upcoming presidency of the European Commission: "By the end of the French presidency, I want Europe to have an immigration policy, a defense policy, an energy policy, and an environmental policy." This seems rather an ambitious program for a six-month stint in the post, and it makes rather short shrift of fifty years of European policymaking in these areas. Of course Sarko's prepared text was rather less presumptuous: he spoke only of "progress" in each of these four areas, rather than implying that Europe had been waiting all these years for its messiah. But Sarkozy does of course think of politics as a vocation, and in Tony Blair he sees another illuminato who, like himself, has received the call. In the fusion of their two charismas he sees a bright future for Europe, whereas hors des médias, pas de salut.

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