Iraq war, torture return to haunt Blair

London, October 31: Tony Blair’s stance on the Iraq war, torture, relations with Bush and the euro may have blighted his chances of becoming the EU president.

The questions are key to discussions about whether he should take the new role of European Council president when the job comes into force under the Lisbon Treaty, expected to become law by December.

On Iraq, Blair put Britain’s ties with the United States above those with its European partners France and Germany, who strongly opposed the conflict.

“Iraq was a big mistake, and that distracted him from developing as a European leader and thinking about the future of the EU,” said Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform.

A poll out Friday showed that fewer than a third of Britons even want Blair — who as premier gave unpopular backing to then US president Bush on the Iraq war — to assume the role.

Britain’s newspapers are busy dissecting whether Blair would be the right man to become the first EU president, with many saying the war in Iraq had blotted his CV.

The Independent said in its editorial Monday that Blair, prime minister from 1997 to 2007, “would be the wrong person to represent the EU”.

The war in Iraq and Blair’s closeness to W. Bush made him “a highly divisive figure in his home country and abroad”.

The Guardian took an even tougher line Tuesday.

Though it listed Blair’s merits as his stature, charm, experience and steeliness, it said he made a “cold calculation” to join the 2003 invasion of Iraq and “might have got away with it” if weapons of mass destruction had indeed been found.

“Should the EU — already beset by a democratic deficit — be represented by a man who has thus far failed to provide satisfactory answers to so many questions which bear on his trustworthiness?” asked the left-leaning daily.

“The EU needs leaders who not only believe in themselves, but in whom Europeans can believe as well… president Blair will never be that man.”

Henry Porter, a commentator for The Observer newspaper, wrote in the Sunday weekly that Blair would be called as a witness in the British inquiry into the war in Iraq in the coming months, which would overshadow the EU job.

“It is his judgment and his integrity that will be on trial in the first weeks of his presidency,” Porter said.

The Liberal Democrats demanded that Blair must not be allowed to become EU President while it is “unclear” what his role was over allegations of British complicity in the torture of terror suspects.

The opposition party’s foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey demanded: “No Government can in good conscience support Tony Blair as a potential President of the European Council while it remains unclear what his role was in the development of British policy on torture.”

He said the increasing numbers of allegations of British involvement in torture and what he termed “state kidnapping” had to be “taken seriously and investigated”.

He was speaking as delegates backed calls for a full and independent inquiry into the “involvement or knowledge” of the Government over torture and rendition.

The motion, which was backed overwhelmingly by a show of hands, calls for a “full and independent public inquiry into the facts relating to the involvement or knowledge of the British Government on matters relating to torture, extraordinary rendition and the illegal transfer of detainees to foreign jurisdictions between September 11 2001 and January 20 2009.”

It also demands Blair should “not to be supported by any British or EU government for the post of President of the European Council as it would be wholly inappropriate for him to occupy such a position before an inquiry has established his role in the formulation of British policy on torture.”

Meanwhile, France and Germany will join forces to choose a new-look European Union’s first big boss, President Nicolas Sarkozy said Friday, sweeping Blair towards the Brussels exit.

The French head of state said he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had agreed to back “the same candidate,” adding that the pair shared the same “vision” for two new top jobs to be created under the Lisbon Treaty, and their favoured runners.

Sarkozy, who said Lisbon could now enter force as early as December 1, would not reveal the identity of his and Merkel’s preferred choice, but said Europe’s George Washington, in reference to the founding US father, would need to be both “charismatic” and a “consensus-builder.”

Without naming Blair, Sarkozy hinted at longstanding problems with a mooted but never declared candidacy.