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French Socialists reject Blair as EU president

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair delivers a speech at the national council meeting of the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) political party in Paris January 12, 2008. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

PARIS (Reuters) - The head of France’s opposition Socialist party rejected on Sunday the idea that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair could become the first president of the European Union.

In a speech on Saturday to France’s ruling centre-right UMP party, Blair set out his vision for Europe, fuelling speculation he may seek to become the 27-nation bloc’s first president, a post due to be created later this year.

But Francois Hollande said the former British Labour prime minister’s support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq made him unsuitable for the post.

“We need a president who could be representative of a political Europe, a Europe independent from the United States and I don’t think Tony Blair fits that profile,” Hollande told France’s Radio J in an interview.

“(Blair) has evident qualities and had successes in his country but the position he took on the invasion of Iraq means he can’t be the next president of Europe,” Hollande added.

In his speech, Blair irked France’s Socialists by joking that his views would probably make him at home in French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government, though he would rather be a member of a reformed Socialist party.

Both the French Socialists and British Labour party sit in the same socialist group in the European Parliament.

Blair also said he would return to Paris on Jan. 31 to give a speech to a think tank founded by the Socialist’s former head of economic policy, Eric Besson, who is now a junior minister in Sarkozy’s government.