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Analysis: Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair plots a course to take the job as EU President.
LONDON — After eight years of trial and many errors, the European Union took a giant step toward establishing a constitution over the weekend when voters in Ireland ratified the Treaty of Lisbon.
The Irish electorate comprehensively rejected the same treaty a little more than a year ago but was given a do-over opportunity. This time voters came up with the right answer. The Irish electorate's change of mind didn't come because there were guns pointed at their heads. Minds in Ireland were concentrated by the collapse of the Irish economy over the last year and a half, and reassured by commitments that certain issues, such as abortion and taxes, would not be dictated from Brussels. A smallish nation suddenly realized its economic future lay with membership of a deeply-flawed but remarkable economic, and increasingly political, club.
The Europeans will also have a real president. The office will no longer be distributed on a rotating basis among the government chiefs of the EU's members. Nor will they have to call the office of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
What power the office of EU president will have is not spelled out in the treaty. Still, it's a cool title and no less a person than former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has made it clear through his spin machine that he wants the job. British bookies make him the favorite to get the job. And if the odds maker makers are right, Blair will have a chance to shape and define the leadership of the European Union.
The back story: The European Union was born of historical necessity. Three times in 70 years Germany had invaded France. The escalating destruction wreaked across Europe by the conflict between the two nations left continental leaders looking for a way to put the two nations in harness economically rather than in violent competition.
In the early 1950s a visionary French civil servant named Jean Monnet laid the foundation for the European Economic Community. Out of Monnet's idealism came the EEC, which was established by treaty. Treaty by treaty the EEC grew into the EU, which now has 27 members.
It has been a uniquely successful international organization in many ways, the most obvious being that for almost 65 years there has been no war on this most blood-soaked of continents. It used potential membership of the club to end fascism in Portugal, Greece and Spain. Taken as a whole the EU is the world's largest economy.
The organization has used this clout to negotiate incredibly favorable trade deals for its member countries and it has allowed farmers to stay in business through its massive subsidies to the agricultural sector — all this for dues that are about 1.25 percent of a country's income. The EU then provides grants back to countries based on their needs. Ireland received more than it paid in for decades, which allowed it to build the transportation and technological infrastructure that drove their economic miracle.