Ex-Premier Blair 'British Understand the Folly of Leaving the EU'
Not much has been heard from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair lately. But in recent days, he has waded into the debate surrounding the next EU Commission president. In an interview, he also predicts that the British will vote to stay in the European Union.
After years of laying low, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has made his way back onto the European stage. Inthe wake of European Parliament elections in late May, he has launched a media offensive, warning repeatedly against the allures of the right-wing populists -- who made significant gains in the vote -- and demanding that reforms be made to the EU. SPIEGEL ONLINE met with Blair on Monday together with several other media outlets.
Question: European Parliament wants to make Jean-Claude Juncker, whose conservatives came out on top in the elections, the new president of the European Commission. Prime Minister David Cameron and a handful of other EU leaders are seeking to prevent that. Is Juncker the best man?
Blair: I don't want to comment on individual people. We should choose the person who is best capable of driving through the reform agenda in Europe. This is a really important moment for the future of Europe. There is a common view that Europe has got to reassert its essential purpose and make changes to the way it works.
Question: Is there anybody who fits that bill?
Blair: There are lots of people who would be prepared to act as a strong CEO of the Commission and adopt a reform agenda from the Council. There should be a special Council meeting where such an agenda is drawn up. The new Parliament is going to be difficult. The Council is going to need to assert itself very strongly, and the Commission needs to be unified under strong, clear executive leadership.
Question: That sounds like a recipe for war with Parliament.
Blair: The EU elections do represent a desire for change. EU leaders can't just dismiss them.
Question: What do you make of the argument that the voters have chosen one of the lead candidates to be president of the Commission?
Blair: I don't think people in Europe really had in mind they were electing the Commission president. You have got to be realistic about this. People do not feel connected to the European Parliament in the way we would like them to. You've got to be careful of the concept that this European vote was a vote for specific people to become president. Of course, we have to take account of who won the election. That's in the treaties now. But in the end, it should be the best person for the job.
Question: Why have you joined the EU debate now? Some might say you are looking for an EU post.
Blair: I am not seeking a role in Europe, formal or informal. It's literally what I believe. It is important that pro-Europeans speak out in Britain.
Question: In Germany, David Cameron is being seen as blackmailing his EU counterparts over Juncker's candidacy. Has he led Britain into a dead end?
Blair: David Cameron has a difficult task on his hands. He can't ignore the UKIP result and he's got issues in his own party. I think you are better able to make this case as to what Britain wants if it's a case made on the basis of what's good for Europe, and not just what's good for Britain. Then you are more likely to build alliances.
Question: Cameron has got his tactics wrong?
Blair: No, I am not criticizing him at all. He's got a chance to build a reform alliance. He's not the only one turning up in the European Council with a difficult domestic background. Whatever negative feelings there are towards the British on this, it is a curable negativity.
Question: Can you imagine a situation in which Britain might find itself outside the EU in five years' time?
Blair: I believe that Britain ultimately will vote to stay in Europe. In the end, the British understand the folly of leaving Europe. I don't accept that the British are as anti-European as everyone says. It is a matter of fact that no-one has ever won an election on a platform of hostility to the EU. I won three elections as a pro-European. Margaret Thatcher won her first two elections as a pro-European.