Critics say that famously Eurosceptic William Hague’s decision to condemn Blair’s recent attempts to gain Presidency of the European Council are to be expected, claiming they are rooted in the fear that such a competent leader would strengthen the union beyond recognition. Blair is currently hot favourite to become “Mr Europe“, (assuming the Treaty is ratified by all 27 countries) after elections in Germany have given previous frontrunner Angela Merkel the chance to remain as the German Chancellor.
What is most worrying about Hague’s hostile approach to Blair becoming the President is both his motivation and his short-sightedness. Blinded by hostility towards Blair after his defeat in the 2001 General Election, he fails to realise how much Blair leading Europe could benefit the UK.
Central to his argument against Blair is Iraq. Having an EU president who ‘sided with’ the US over Iraq rather than his European counter-parts will damage the UK’s relations within Europe, he claims. Despite this, Hague himself voted in favour of the invasion of Iraq, and who also wants to leave one of the two leading European groupings, the European Peoples Party (which both Sarkozy and Merkel are a part of). As well as this, he proposes to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty if it is not ratified before the next General Election.
For Hague to put on a front of preventing Blair from being president out of the best interests of Europe is laughable. The level of Euroscepticism emanating from him and Cameron is as fierce as that from Thatcher in the 1980’s. Tony Blair actually tried to restore the UK’s European credentials during his premiership, willingly giving back the €1bn CAP rebate that Thatcher fought for, as well as providing financial support for the Union. Blair also led the EU in 1998 in the action taken to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Blair showed tremendous leadership over Kosovo, which lead to him and Chirac proposing further integration in a Common Foreign Policy.
The only concern coming from both the EU and the US about British hostility is coming from Hague himself. The Shadow Foreign Secretary flew to Washington to meet the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton about the Conservatives’ pessimistic and hostile attitude towards the European Union. There are growing concerns from the US over the Conservative withdrawal from the EPP, which Hague has spent the best part of the year organising, that such action will isolate Britain. After accusing Blair of favouring the US over Europe, if Hague backtracks and succumbs to US pressure, it will not only elucidate the Tories for what they are, spineless, but yet again show Europe what Blair tried to change, that the UK acts only upon the call of the US.
Blair turned the UK from being an ambivalent, Eurosceptic member state to one who actually valued the importance of the Union. Who better, not only to lead Europe, but to ensure that the UK will play a more active and positive role in the EU?