Had it been suggested that a well-known Transylvanian nobleman be put in charge of the integration of European blood transfusion services, it could hardly have seemed more incongruous than the proposal being touted to make Tony Blair president of the European Union. But we would do well to be clear why this is so, and to explore why such an appointment would appear so grotesquely inappropriate.
First, we must remember the great service New Labour under Blair did in 1997 by vanquishing a Major government which had been sabotaged at every turn by its Europhobic minority. These were not intellectual critics of the concepts of supra-national institution building, or even neocons particularly devoted to our subaltern role in the Atlantic alliance; instead they were little Englanders of the shrillest stripe. Major himself once famously referred to them as “bastards”. But we must also remember that had the Labour opposition offered unstinting support to the pro-Europeans in the government, the Europhobes would have been impotent. It was Labour opportunism that gave them the power their own numbers did not warrant.
So the new day
dawned, with Blair promising to keep Britain
- Adoption into British law of the European Convention on Human Rights - while constantly railing against its practical implications, repeatedly breaching its spirit as regards asylum seekers and detainees suspected of terrorist offences and increasingly flirting with torture as an instrument of policy
- Opting out of the European working time directive (this in a country whose nineteenth century Factories Acts led the world on social legislation)
- Pursuit of British self interest above all else in budget negotiations over many years
- Remaining with Ireland and Switzerland the only west European country outside the Schengen free movement area - to which even the non-EU Iceland and Norway belong
- Successfully undermining the project for a European constitution, leaving Gordon Brown to sign the substitute treaty with all the enthusiasm of an idle schoolboy dawdling his way to double maths
- A fundamental unwillingness to share the risks of the project to create a single European currency, a nationalistic stance whose disadvantages are now becoming clearer as the world economy faces downturn
- Never giving a clear lead or making the case for a strong, united and co-ordinated European Union
- And finally by total surrender to neocon Atlanticism in the decision to flout both truth and international law and go to war in Iraq
During his tenure as prime minister, those who wanted to see the lifeblood sucked out of the British Labour Party and its foundational project of moderating markets in the interests of working people could not praise Blair highly enough. Likewise those who detest the core ideals of European civilization now see in Blair an instrument of their desires. Goodbye not only to socialism but also to social market capitalism, which elevates at least some human values above the universal commodification of neo-liberalism and challenges the untrammelled dominance of corporate elites.
If what Europeans want is a CEO for Europe plc, they need look no further.