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Italy favours Blair to lead EU, understands doubters

Source: Reuters - Tue 6th Oct 2009

Italy favours Britain's Tony Blair to be European Union president but understands the reservations of some other countries based on Britain's reluctance to join the euro or the Schengen open-border zone, an Italian minister said.

"We have expressed our appreciation for Tony Blair, knowing however that there is a bloc of countries with concerns about him" Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told Corriere della Sera newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday.

There has long been speculation that former prime minister Blair would seek the new role of long-term president of the European Council of Ministers, due to be created under the Lisbon Treaty. The appointment could be made at an EU summit later this month.

The Lisbon Treaty takes effect when Poland and the Czech Republic follow other member states in ratifying it.

While he has the support of Britain's Labour government and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Germany's Angela Merkel is unlikely to support Blair. Other candidates could include Dutch premier Jan-Peter Balkenende and Finland's Paavo Lipponen.

Frattini said Britain's position on the euro and Schengen were the main obstacles to the former centre-left British prime minister getting the job.

"We appreciate him as a person. We realise these limits, we do not deny them" said the Italian minister.

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