Blair tests ground for EU presidency

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Tony Blair is for the first time letting it be known that he is open to the idea of campaigning to become the European Union’s first full-time president, a post that will be filled by EU member states later this year.

In the seven months since he quit as prime minister, Mr Blair has given no indication that he would be interested in the role. He has left it to France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, to argue that the former premier should be the first holder of the 2½-year rotating presidency.

However, Mr Blair is understood to have told close allies he could be a candidate for a job that may become the EU’s public face to the world. He believes these are early days, noting that the mini-treaty establishing the presidency has not been ratified by many member states.

Mr Blair also believes he has a serious job to do as envoy for the international community seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

But Mr Blair is now telling allies that he would be prepared to begin campaigning for the European presidency if a strong consensus could be built around his candidacy among EU member states.

Mr Blair has recently signed agreements to work for Zurich Financial Services and for JPMorgan. If he were to become EU president, EU governments would expect him to abandon those roles.

The key issue is whether sufficient momentum can be gathered behind his candidacy.

However, there will be more than a few EU leaders arguing that the post could not go to someone from a country which is neither a member of the eurozone nor the Schengen agreement on open EU borders. Mr Blair’s strong backing for the US-led invasion of Iraq would also count against him in the eyes of some EU leaders.

But for now, Mr Blair’s stance remains low-key. A spokesman for the former prime minister said last night: “There is no campaign and no campaign team. The treaty hasn’t even been ratified yet. Tony Blair remains focused on his role in the Middle East.”

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