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Revealed: Secret meeting where French President offered Blair EU President job

JONATHAN OLIVER in London and PETER ALLEN
UK Daily Mail
Sunday June 17, 2007

Tony Blair has been accused of 'knifing' Gordon Brown by holding secret discussions about a job as the first ever President of the European Union.

The Prime Minister was entertained in Paris by new French president Nicolas Sarkozy at an upmarket restaurant called Thiou, where they agreed a joint agenda on Europe.

French political sources have confirmed that President Sarkozy is keen for Mr Blair to take on a full-time paid role as the 'face' of the EU after he quits Downing Street.

But such an appointment would be a disaster for the Chancellor, who has long struggled to escape from the shadow of his political rival.

And Eurosceptic campaigners warn that the prospect of a lucrative post-retirement job in Brussels would compromise Mr Blair's ability to strike a good deal for Britain at this week's European summit, when EU leaders meet to agree a new treaty.

Critics claim this will effectively be a full-scale European Constitution by the back door.

The summit will almost certainly also agree the creation of a new powerful post, President of the European Council.

Neil O"Brien, director of the Open Europe think-tank, said: "The risk is that if Tony Blair has even half an eye on this job he will be more concerned about being a "good European" than fighting for Britain.

"A bad European treaty will be a poison pill for Gordon Brown. The Chancellor has been knifed."

Mr Blair's private dinner with Mr Sarkozy and his wife Cecilia at the Thai restaurant on the banks of the Seine has echoes of a previous restaurant encounter where Mr Brown was outmanoeuvred.

In 1994, at Granita in Islington, Mr Blair is said to have made a deal to hand over power to Mr Brown during his second term, leading to later accusations of betrayal.

The Paris meal, revealed here for the first time, took place on May 11, days after Mr Sarkozy's presidential victory and hours after Mr Blair publicly confirmed his retirement date.

The fashionable restaurant - named after the chef who founded it - describes itself as catering for the 'international jet set'.

Thiou's signature dish is an exotic meat and noodle concoction known as 'le tigre qui pleure' (the tiger who cries) and priced at £21.50.

French sources say Mr Blair and the Sarkozys talked animatedly in French - the Prime Minister is fluent - for at least two hours, while minders watched from a distance.

"Nicolas Sarkozy is very keen to see his friend Tony Blair in an influential position after he steps down as Prime Minister,' said a French government source.

"The job of EU President would have seemed an obvious one, and there is no doubt that Mr Sarkozy would like to see Mr Blair in such a job. Whether Mr Blair wants the job is for him to decide."

The presence of Cecilia Sarkozy is a clear sign of just how close Mr Blair has become to France's first family. Mrs Sarkozy tends to avoid official dinners, but was happy to make an exception for the British Prime Minister.

The two families have children of similar ages and Mr Blair's daughter Kathryn enjoyed hospitality at the Sarkozy's Parisian home when she was studying at the Sorbonne.

Mr Blair has also invited the French President to dinner in Downing Street on Tuesday ahead of the Brussels summit. But this time Mr Brown will be on the guest list.

Last night, Downing Street played down Mr Blair's interest in an EU job, but stopped short of denying the issue might have been discussed.

A spokesman said: "He has already indicated he is not interested in a return to frontline politics."

The new post is likely to come into being in 2009. So, if Mr Blair was interested, he would have time to write his Downing Street memoirs and make millions on the US lecture circuit first. He would have to be subjected to a vote of the leaders of the 25 member states, but with French support that is likely to be a formality.

The job will carry a higher status than the current role of European Commission President. Jose Manuel Barroso will continue in day-to-day charge of the Brussels bureaucracy.

Mr Barroso is paid £180,000 a year, on which he pays a special EU rate of tax of just 15 per cent.

He can also claim accommodation expenses of £27,000, £7,000 for entertaining and an official car worth up to £75,000. His pension, which also attracts the low Brussels tax rate, will be £120,000 a year.

Mr Blair - if he goes for the Brussels job - would be able to negotiate an even more generous package.

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