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Europe

Britain's Blair Loses French Support in Bid for EU Presidency

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has withdrawn his backing for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to become the first president of the European Union under the reform treaty, according to a media report.

Tony Blair

Blair's presidential hopes could be in trouble

The French president was understood to have changed his mind over his support for Blair after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the BBC quoted "senior sources" as saying.

Sarkozy now believes Blair's involvement in the Iraq war had damaged his standing among EU fellow members -- a view long held my other countries, including Germany.

According to the BBC, sources close to the president have indicated that Sarkozy felt Blair was not right for the role because Britain has failed to adopt the euro and the Schengen zone of passport-free travel.

France key to presidential selection

The selection of the EU's first permanent president has the political establishment buzzing with speculation. The new post was created by the Lisbon Treaty, which assuming it is ratified by all 27 EU member states, will take effect on Jan. 1, 2009.

The new permanent EU president is envisioned as a high-profile post which will be the face of Europe abroad. The president would prepare and chair the bloc's summits of national leaders and preside over the European Council of member governments.

The presidency job is currently rotated every six months between the bloc's heads of state. France will take over the EU presidency in July for the rest of 2008 and it will be influential in negotiations on the new power-sharing arrangements at the bloc's institutions in Brussels.

Blair down, but not out

While European Socialists are in particular opposed to Blair becoming EU president, he has not been totally excluded either, a source close to the French presidency told the news agency AFP earlier this week.

"The English shouldn't be ostracized. It would be a big mistake to think that just because Great Britain is euroskeptic they shouldn't get any posts," the French source told AFP.

Besides Blair, a handful of other European heavyweights are seen as frontrunners. Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Junker is often tipped as the next president along with former Austrian premier Wolfgang Schuessel and Danish Prime Minister Ander Fogh Rasmussen.

Insiders say that European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso stood a good chance of securing a second five-year term as head of the EU's executive arm.

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