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Blair's EU president plan dismissed

Tony Blair's vision for an elected president of the European Union has been dismissed by Foreign Secretary William Hague, who insisted its members had more pressing priorities than further "constitutional tinkering".

Mr Hague said elected presidents were "for countries", adding: "The EU is not a country."

Asked about the former prime minister's call for further European integration and the creation of an elected head, the Foreign Secretary suggested that Mr Blair was thinking of the role for himself.

"I can't think who he had in mind," Mr Hague joked.

Speaking at a Lancaster House press conference following talks with his South African counterpart, he went on: "Elected presidents are for countries.

"The EU is not a country and it's not going to become a country in my view, now or ever in the future. It is a group of countries working together.

"So the appropriate solution is not an elected president for a group of countries, it's for those countries each to promote economic growth in their countries, to bring their deficits under control."

Mr Blair has warned that Britain will lack "weight and influence" without being part of the "European power".

He argued in an interview with The Times that Europe needed greater unity in order to have influence with rising powers such as China, India and Brazil.

He conceded that the idea of a directly-elected president had "no chance of being accepted at the present time". But he insisted: "Europe has got a fantastic opportunity, but only if it's prepared to reform and change radically in the way it works."

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