[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 18 June 2007, 00:43 GMT 01:43 UK
Blair in Europe: a false messiah?
As Tony Blair prepares to attend his last European Union summit as prime minister, William Horsley, a long-time observer of Europe's political scene, says Mr Blair made powerful enemies, but his real legacy is to have changed Europe beyond recognition over the past 10 years.

Tony Blair at the EU
Tony Blair - seen by some as 'Mr Europe'

Tony Blair presented himself as Europe's saviour but has turned out to be a false messiah.

That is a charge that some would make against him as he leaves the European stage.

A senior EU official says: "Blair was a first-class leader in Europe. But he failed to make the case for Europe in Britain or to use his influence with the US effectively."

Those things rankle with many other EU leaders. But the criticism from Brussels and beyond is tempered with admiration.

True, Tony Blair failed to live up to his promise, made soon after his sweeping 1997 election victory, to conquer the British nation's deep-seated scepticism about sharing more of the country's sovereign powers with Europe.

And his bold plans for scrapping the pound and taking Britain into the Euro currency, announced with fanfare in his first term of office, foundered on opposition from Gordon Brown - the man who will soon succeed him - as well as the hostility of the British public.

Reform or die

But for three years after he took power, Blair was widely seen as "Mr Europe". In that time he, not the traditional powers of France and Germany, made Europe's political weather.

For example, Mr Blair warned other centre-left parties around Europe to "reform or die", and was proved right as those which clung to traditional socialist ideas were swept from power in France, Italy and elsewhere.

He lifted Britain's long-standing veto on the EU having its own limited military capabilities. That has allowed a score of EU peacekeeping missions to be sent to hotspots like Bosnia, Aceh in Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In 1999 he rallied the usually unwarlike Europeans to support military action to drive Serbian forces out of Kosovo in the name of humanitarian intervention.

President Chirac of France and Chancellor Schroeder of Germany
Blair's war stance drove a rift between him and the leaders of France and Germany

And in 2000, Tony Blair was the main architect of the EU's ambitious programme of economic reforms, called the "Lisbon Agenda", designed to help Europe overtake the US as the world's most dynamic knowledge-based economy. It is still officially one of the chief goals of the EU.

In his early years Tony Blair's aides joked that at home he was so popular he could walk on water.

In Europe he achieved the accolade in 1999 of being awarded the Charlemagne Prize for promoting the cause of European unity.

In his acceptance speech Tony Blair called the European Union a force for good in the world, and "a superpower, but not a superstate".

He also became the acknowledged champion of the "new democracies" of Central and Eastern Europe which had escaped from communism and were to join the EU in 2004.

They mostly shared Mr Blair's enthusiasm for very close security ties with the US and his efforts to counter protectionism in western Europe.

Europe's future

The second half of Tony Blair's decade of dealing with Europe was marked by fierce arguments as the real battle for Europe's future was joined.

Mr Blair's bold attempt to end Europe's massive, trade-distorting dependence on farm subsidies was blocked by France and Germany. But it laid the ground for more radical cuts in future.

His decision to commit British forces to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to an angry and permanent rift with President Chirac of France and Chancellor Schroeder of Germany. But half the EU member states backed the coalition, and moves to turn the EU into a "counterweight" against US power failed.

The Blair government overcame opposition from some other European states to win Turkey the chance to start talks aimed at its future EU membership. He challenged Europe to show it could be a bridge to other cultures and not a fortress.

The high point for Tony Blair in Europe was a rousing speech to the European parliament in 2005 in which he called for Europe's leaders to wake up to the people's call for a new kind of leadership.

Prime Minster Tony Blair
Could this be the first EU president?

He compared Europe to Jericho before its fall. "The people are blowing trumpets around the city walls," he said.

Real changes have been slow in coming. And those walls may yet come down on all the leaders together. But Tony Blair's quiet triumph is that he got the rest of Europe to sign up to a new focus on practical goals like energy security, growth and jobs, instead of looking inwards.

Mr Blair himself claims he won the argument over Europe.

That will be put to the test as EU leaders try again - without him - to thrash out a new treaty to replace the European Constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters two years ago.

But Europe does look more like what Tony Blair said it should be, with Angela Merkel in power in Berlin and Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris. Now there are pro-American and reform-minded leaders in Paris and Berlin as well as London.

So, despite the mutterings about Blair's "betrayals", he will surely be missed in Europe.

The proof is that as the EU prepares to create a prestigious new title of "President of the European Council" in its next treaty, it is looking around for a former European head of government who could be a global spokesman for all 27 EU government heads, and one big name has not yet been ruled out.

That name is Tony Blair.






FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific