By Bruno Waterfield in Brussels
The proposed full-time president of the European Union is to be given a personal jet, a palatial official residence and a personal staff of up to 22, under plans being considered in Brussels.
The prospect of a private aircraft raises the possibility that Tony Blair, the current frontrunner for the new post, which comes into effect next year, could get the “Blair Force One” he was denied as prime minister.
The terms of the new president were discussed at a secret “working dinner” held on Tuesday between José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, and EU ambassadors.
One attraction of the job will be its clout in terms of the “cabinet” of advisers the new president will be able to assemble. Current proposals suggest an EU presidential team of between 16 and 22 people. Such a number would be an important measure of the power of the position. In comparison, Mr Barroso presides over a cabinet of 13 people.
Other EU member states, including federalist countries keen to give the post an aura of gravitas – and even statehood – have urged that the new president be granted an official “White House” style residence worthy of his status.
Because the new “President of the Council” will have a globetrotting role, some diplomats have argued that he, or she, should have the use of a personal aircraft, leading to inevitable comparisons with the American presidential jet, Air Force One.
Under French plans, expected to take shape when Paris takes the rotating EU presidency in July, the new figurehead would play a key role in forming a Euro-defence “vanguard group” of up to eight countries.
One diplomat described the talks at Tuesday’s dinner as “very informal”. No notes were taken.
But the Conservatives attacked the talks, held before the EU treaty has been fully debated and ratified at Westminster.
William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, said: “This shows how deeply undemocratic this whole process is.
“Crucial questions about the EU are being decided and Parliament, let alone the British people, is being kept in the dark.
“Ministers must now come clean about what they’ve been up to as the treaty is scrutinised in the Lords.”
Open Europe, the Eurosceptic think-tank, said that the launch of informal negotiations about the role of the new president highlighted “contempt for the public”
EU politicians claim that the Lisbon Treaty will make the EU more transparent and accessible to voters, but this latest example of secretive horse-trading shows that if it ever does come into force it will be business as usual in Brussels,” said Paul Stephenson, its spokesman.