EXCLUSIVE/ Tony Blair’s dream of leaving Downing Street in the wake of the Iraq invasion to become EU Commission President would have been vetoed by Jacques Chirac, his top aide told EURACTIV.com on Friday (30 September).
In 2004, at the height of his troubles both in the aftermath of Iraq, and with his chancellor and rival, Gordon Brown, Blair contemplated quitting as prime minister to become president of the EU executive.
In his new diaries, published in extract today by The New European, Blair’s chief press aide, Alastair Campbell, revealed the plan for the first time.
Quizzed by EURACTIV as to who – bearing in mind France and Germany’s opposition to the Iraq war – would have supported Blair’s candidacy, Campbell admitted there would have been a string of problems.
After first admonishing EURACTIV to “read the book [his diaries]. Books are good learning tools for journalists”, Campbell relented and provided further details.
He said, “I always assumed JC [French President Jacques Chirac] would veto. Bertie A [Irish Taoiseach Bertie Aherne] was pro (and was president), GS [German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder] we assumed neutral/anti.”
Blair eventually stayed on as prime minister, winning another general election – his third – in 2005, before stepping down in 2007. He was replaced by Brown, elected unopposed in the Labour leadership contest, who went on to lose in 2010.
Blair, a centrist Labour prime minister, had a curious relationship with his fellow centre-left EU leaders, often seeming closer to centre-right figures such as Spain’s José María Aznar and later Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi – whose holiday home he used in 2004 – than figures such as France’s Lionel Jospin and Germany’s Gerhard Schröder, with whose terms his stay in power overlapped.
Aznar and Berlusconi both backed the Iraq war. Germany, under Schröder and Green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, did not – with Fischer famously facing down Donald Rumsfeld over the issue.
After an early flirtation with the similarly ‘Third Way’ Schröder, Berlin broke with London over Iraq. Schröder had appeared at the 2001 Labour Party conference.
New Labour, under Blair, had a further dip into Brussels politics when in 2009, following the Lisbon Treaty’s creation of the EU foreign affairs chief, it was rumoured that David Milliband, then foreign secretary, would leave London to take up that post.
In the end it was taken by British peer, Catherine Ashton, and is now occupied by the Italian Federica Mogherini.
Campbell’s new diaries “Inside Outside 2003-5” will be published by Biteback Books next week.
In it, according to the extracts in The New European, he writes: “A lot of the time the press exaggerated our difficulties. This was one period where if anything they underplayed them because they didn’t know just how bad things were.
“This was the closest Tony got to leaving and at the time I was terrified it would get out because it was one of those stories that would have taken on its own momentum.
“Tony had pretty much had enough and was being ground down by Gordon. In the end he realised that and decided he had to stay and see it through.”