Page last updated at 14:34 GMT, Friday, 30 October 2009

Blow to Blair's hope of EU post

Tony Blair
Mr Blair has not publicly commented on whether he wants the job

Tony Blair's hopes of becoming president of the European Council are fading after his supporters failed to secure the backing of EU leaders.

Gordon Brown said Mr Blair would make an "excellent president" but there were "many candidates who may come forward".

Meanwhile ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, which creates the post, moved closer after EU leaders struck a deal with the Czech president.

Mr Brown said they had cleared the way for the treaty to be ratified.

No 10 has signalled that a defeat for Mr Blair's candidacy is now "a clear possibility".

'Excellent president'

The former British PM has not declared himself a candidate but British ministers, including Mr Brown who is at a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels, have been talking him up for days.

Speaking at the end of the summit, Mr Brown said: "I think I am right to say that Britain has someone in Tony Blair who would make an excellent president of the Council of the European Union.

"I think there are many people who are members of the council who accept that and believe that to be true."

Gordon Brown reiterates his support for Tony Blair as President of the EU Council

But he added: "I recognise also that there are many candidates who may come forward, some have already indicated their intention to do so, but I do believe that Tony Blair will remain an excellent candidate."

At the summit EU leaders agreed to grant the Czech Republic, the only EU state not to have signed up to the treaty, an opt-out from the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Mr Brown said he believed that the meeting had "cleared the way" for the Czech Republic to ratify the Lisbon Treaty - should the country's constitutional court rule in its favour next week.

Once that happened European member states would discuss the position of the presidency and the commissioners, he said.

'Slim' chance

If it is ratified it will also increase pressure on the Conservatives - who oppose the treaty and say there should have been a referendum on it - to spell out what they will do if they win power and it has come into force.

Conservative leader David Cameron told the BBC: "If that comes to pass we'll set out straight away what our approach to that important issue will be."

The BBC's Jonny Dymond in Brussels said Mr Blair's chances of becoming the first president of the European Council - a post created by the treaty - seemed "slimmer today than before".

Tony Blair - former British prime minister
Jean-Claude Juncker - Luxembourg's prime minister
Jan Peter Balkenende - Dutch prime minister
Vaira Vike-Freiberga - former president of Latvia
Wolfgang Schuessel - former chancellor of Austria
Felipe Gonzalez - former Spanish prime minister
John Bruton - former Irish prime minister

A lack of support from European socialist leaders has served to undermine Mr Blair's chances.

However the leaders failed to back any prospective candidate and have now set up a three-man team to decide on their position.

Austrian Chancellor Werner Fayman, who will be one of the three on the panel, expressed doubts about Mr Blair's prospects.

Mr Fayman said: "My personal opinion is that the candidate ... should have an especially good relationship with (President Barack) Obama and not stand for a good working relationship with Bush."

Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero also failed to endorse Mr Blair. Mr Zapatero said: "We have all heard names. But the work to achieve a larger consensus, that is going to take some time."

Mr Zapatero also raised the prospect that the socialists might instead decide to seek the post of high representative for foreign affairs.

This would leave the presidency open to a centre-right candidate, thereby ruling Mr Blair out.

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