Page last updated at 14:34 GMT, Wednesday, 14 October 2009 15:34 UK

Berlusconi backs Blair for EU job

Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi in 2005
Mr Berlusconi says the EU needs to reform as soon as possible

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has endorsed Tony Blair as his preferred candidate to be president of the European Union.

Mr Blair had "the right credentials" and should get the job as soon as "legally and politically possible", he wrote to Italian newspaper Il Foglio.

Mr Berlusconi also said changes to the way the EU is run would leave a "great political legacy" for Europe.

Mr Blair, UK prime minister until 2007, is currently a Middle East peace envoy.

The presidency would be created under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, which still has to be ratified by the Czech Republic.

'Strength of character'

There has long been speculation that Mr Blair would apply but he has not confirmed his intentions.

EU heads of government will choose who gets the post.

Mr Berlusconi has previously described Mr Blair as having the "ideal personality" for the job.

In his letter to Il Foglio, he says: "Tony Blair has all the right credentials for becoming the first president of the European Council in the terms enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty, and to be appointed to that post as soon as it is legally and politically possible to give the go-ahead to the implementation of the clause renewing the union's governance."

In July the then Europe minister Baroness Kinnock said the UK would support Mr Blair, adding that he had the "strength of character" and "status" to be a success.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy had backed Mr Blair, but senior sources told the BBC last year that he had changed his mind following a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

'Streamline'

The precise role of the EU president has not been laid out.

But he or she is expected to chair EU summits, take on some of the functions of the current presidency of the Council of the European Union - held on a rotating six-month basis by EU heads of government - and represent the EU on common foreign and security policy.

The EU Treaty would also expand the policy areas subject to "qualified majority voting" - rather than allowing all 27 member states a veto - and establish an EU high representative for foreign affairs.

Supporters say such moves would "streamline" EU decision-making, but opponents argue they would make the institution less accountable and democratic, while undermining the countries' national sovereignty.

Former Spanish prime minister Felipe Gonzalez, a socialist, is seen as a potential rival to Mr Blair, as is Jean-Claude Juncker, the veteran centre-right Luxembourg prime minister.

The terms of the treaty - including the presidency - had been expected to be implemented by January this year, but Irish voters threw it out in a referendum last year.

A second referendum earlier this month backed the changes.

The Polish government ratified the treaty at the weekend, but Czech president Vaclav Klaus has said he will not sign unless his country is granted an opt-out from the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights.



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