WASHINGTON, Nov. 2 (UPI) -- The surging campaign to stop Tony Blair from becoming the first real president of the European Union is the best thing that could happen for the EU, for Britain and for Blair.
For a start, it is not a proper job, even though the new Lisbon Treaty tries to suggest that it represents some kind of breakthrough in the way Europe governs itself. Certainly the old system, which rotates the presidency of the EU Council around the 27 different member countries every six months, was bizarrely inefficient, even though the small nations understandably enjoyed their moment in the sun.
But the new president has a very limited mandate of a 30-month term. And the key portfolios, on trade and agricultural and economic policy, remain under the rotating chairmanship system. The new president is appointed by the other heads of government, which means he or she has no independent democratic mandate. Rather like a modern European monarch, the new president will reign rather than rule.
Certainly an international star like Tony Blair would carry rather more weight than, to mention another candidate for the post, Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg. But once the presidents of China and the United States and the ruler of the Kremlin realize that President Blair does not have the power to cut deals and make them stick, his welcome is likely to become distinctly cooler.
To make the new president a real power and voice for Europe is mission impossible. The EU does not work that way. Just as the American president is restrained by Congress's power over the purse and by the Supreme Court's say over what is and is not constitutional, so the new EU president can be defined by the job's limitations.
The EU is run by three bodies. There is the Commission, which is the bureaucracy and its executive arm and still has the sole power to initiate legislation. There is the European Parliament, which holds ultimate authority over the budget and decides whether to pass, modify or scrap the Commission's proposals for new laws. And then there is the EU Council -- where the 27 heads of government meet -- which in theory has the ultimate real power but in practice finds it very hard to reach an effective consensus.
It is this Council that the new president would chair for 30 months, which means endless attempts to forge a consensus where there is none to be reached. EU member states are hopelessly divided over what to do about energy security, terrorism, supporting the United States in Afghanistan, welcoming Turkey into the EU, reforming its lunatic farm policy, how far and fast to cut carbon emissions and all the other decisions that matter.
A star president is not going to change that. And to be frank, the slow and delicate building of consensus and patient persuasion are not Blair's strong points. He does not suffer fools gladly and is visibly bored by detail.
Blair has enemies across Europe, from those who will never forgive his role in the Iraq war to those who say the EU cannot be represented or led by someone from a country that is not part of the euro currency. His biggest enemies would be at home, since the euroskeptic Tories are almost certain to form the next British government and have already warned the EU that Blair's appointment would be seen as a hostile act.
That may be the strongest remaining arrow in Blair's quiver; other EU members tend to react strongly against being bullied or told what not to do in such a fashion.
Finally, the job would bore and frustrate him, and would not greatly suit Blair's undoubted talents.
But if Blair does not get the presidency (for which he has not openly campaigned), that means Britain will get another big job, almost certainly the post of the new EU foreign minister, which does have real weight. David Miliband, Britain's youthful and pro-European foreign secretary, would be the overwhelming front-runner.
Miliband keeps saying he is not a candidate, but under the EU's curious etiquette that is almost a precondition for getting a job. And he has certainly been campaigning for it in the subtle way that Europeans admire. Take, for example, the op-ed he published in the London Times Saturday on British foreign policy:
"We need to step up European efforts to address global conflicts and crises," he began. "Europe has the world's second-biggest aid budget, and armed forces and police doing vital work, whether in the Gulf of Aden on piracy or Kosovo on rule of law. Pakistan should be top of the list for a new drive on aid, trade and engagement. We need Europe to prioritize relations with the great and emerging powers: the United States on security, China on climate change, Russia on energy.
"These EU relationships are not threats to Britain's bilateral relations. They are complementary, not competing. But we need Europe to step up and show it can be a strategic and serious partner, worthy of the world's largest market and strongest regional alliance. The multipolar world is here. Neither hubris, nostalgia nor xenophobia provide a guide. But we need to be internationalists for our prosperity and security," he wrote.
That reads like a real manifesto for a real job where a young man of energy and vision and conviction can make a real difference. That would be good for Britain and Europe.