Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Tony Blair: EU Is a Brutal Realpolitik

Adelina Marini, December 3, 2012

If someone ever thought that Tony Blair's political career had ended after almost three terms as prime minister of Britain and that he would live his days cashing down the dividends of that highly successful for the labourists period that will remain in the history not only of the UK, but of Europe as well, have deluded themselves. Tony Blair is back on the European scene. Even more, just like his first appearance as a reformer of the inveterate labourists, with a very good timing. Right when the UK seems adrift with David Cameron, who created a feeling of a male Margaret Thacher but proved to be a disappointing populist, and with the nondescript leader, successor of Blair in the left, Ed Miliband, who is sending the labourists again in oblivion.

And all this, against the backdrop of the rapidly gaining speed UK Independent Party (UKIP), led by the very resounding in Europe MEP Nigel Farage, who claims his cause is a British exit from the EU. But along the negotiations on Budget 2014-2020 of the EU, not one or two politicians started to remember Tony Blair. The leader of the liberals in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, recalled his appeal in 2005 such disputes over the budget not to repeat themselves ever. The then speeches of Blair are remembered by many analysts as well.

And here he is, Tony Blair is back with a special speech about Europe, on November 28th during an event of Business for New Europe. And although, for now, there is no official statement about Mr Blair's plans for the future (he is currently a representative of the International Quartet for the Middle East), the fact that even on Twitter he already has a new profile (as of the same date of the Europe speech - November 28th), @TonyBlairEurope, is very eloquent.

The main accents in his speech are that the UK's place is in Europe, that Europe's social model must be radically changed so that the continent can prosper and that the eurozone crisis is in fact an opportunity for changes.

"The short term politics are clear: being anti-Europe is today popular. However leadership is not about conceding to the short-terms politics. It is about managing the short-term politics in the pursuit of the right long-term policy", Tony Blair said. "Europe is in crisis, therefore leave", may win a majority in the polls. The problem however, he points out, is that the error is in what's next. According to the former British premier, Britain is facing a real and genuine threat to approach the EU exit. "The correct policy is to engage, to make it clear Britain intends to be a strong participant in the debates about Europe’s future, to build alliances and to shape an outcome to those debates consistent with the right way forward not just for Britain but for Europe as a whole".

His argument is not new. He returns to things he said before. Things that are already a fact. "First, take a big step back from crisis and ask: what is the long-term rationale for Europe today? If there isn’t one, of course, then why would we want to be part of it? However, the truth is the rationale for Europe today is stronger not weaker than it was back 66 years ago when the project began. But it is different. Then the rationale was peace. Today it is power. Then it was about a continent ravaged by war in which Germany had been the aggressor and Britain the victor. Today it is about a world in which global geo-politics is undergoing its biggest change for centuries. Power is shifting West to East. China has emerged, with its economy opening up, one which will grow eventually to be the world’s largest. Its population is three times that of the whole of the EU. India has over a billion people. Brazil is two times the size of the largest European country, Indonesia three times and there are a host of countries including Russia, Turkey, Mexico, Vietnam, the Philippines and Egypt larger today than any single EU nation".

With the next paragraph Tony Blair sides with Angela Merkel, who recently in the Europarliament, on the occasion of the ever more drifting away from the EU Britain, said that it is tough to be alone among 7 billion people. "[...] in this new world, to leverage power, you need the heft of the EU. This is true in economics, in trade, in defence, foreign policy and global challenges such as climate change. It gives us a weight collectively that on our own we lack. It is not complex. It really is that simple. I rather like the idealism of Europe’s early founders. But actually this has nothing to do with idealism. It is brutal real politik. In a world in which China and India will both have populations 20 times that of the UK, we need the EU to help pursue our national interest. With it, we count for more. Without it, we count for less", Tony Blair explained.

According to him, what is important is the EU to deal with completing the single market so that it can create jobs; a common defence policy in an era when global ambitions cannot be met by national budgets - something which Tony Blair spoke of a lot and at the moment, it seems, the only person that speaks about it is Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski; energy and environment; fight against illegal immigration and organised crime; art and culture and high education. Now, when the EU institutions and most EU member states are busy with the eurozone crisis, Tony Blair believes is the right moment Britain to seize the initiative, instead of waiting passively and discuss an agenda set by others.

Britain will lose its influence and will shrink dramatically if it did not participate in the EU decision-making process. "Back when Europe was debating its first tentative steps toward integration, Churchill made his famous speech calling for a United States of Europe, in 1946 in Zürich. But it is important to note he was passionately in favour of France and Germany coming together to found this new Europe. He believed it was the route to peace after the horrors of war. He wished the enterprise well; but he didn’t intend for Britain to be part of it. So we weren’t. But we spent the next two decades and more trying to get into it; and when eventually we did, many of the rules and much of the institutional infrastructure was already set in stone. If we could have foreseen in 1946 the future 66 years later what would we have wanted? I have no doubt we would have wanted to have been in there from the beginning".

Tony Blair believes that Europe's current woes will lead to a new arrangement probably, according to him, as momentous as 66 years ago. "We should not make the same mistake twice", the former premier called. Tony Blair is an exceptional politician who has managed to reform the labourists and to keep them in power for three terms. Time during which he skillfully balanced between Britain's interests and the EU as a convinced pro-European, as he defines himself. The EU is at a crossroads. It is important how will it continue its development from now on. And even more important is thanks to whom it will go on.

And Tony Blair's return is something we have to follow closely, especially given the upcoming 2014 European elections when there will be new members of the European Parliament, new president of the European Commission and also a new president of the European Council. Blair was named a candidate for the latter position when the Lisbon Treaty was about to enter into force. Is he going to be among the names that will inflate the public domain, we are yet to witness. What is certain, though, is that he is back, which is why it is important for us to follow the next steps of @TonyBlairEurope.