The post of president of the European Council is due to be created by the 27-nation grouping in the second half of 2008, when France will chair EU ministerial meetings.

Sarkozy has previously said Blair would be one of the leading candidates.

He heaped further praise upon Blair on Saturday and commended his role in persuading Britain to sign up to the bloc's new reform treaty.

Strong case

"When we appoint this president of the European Union, I want us to set the bar high and not aim for the lowest common denominator," Sarkozy said.

But he stopped short of offering Blair public backing for the post, which will not be created until the treaty has been ratified by all EU countries.

The case for Blair's appointment was further enhanced by Jean-Pierre Rafarin, a former French prime minister and senior UMP figure, who wrote in Saturday's Le Monde newspaper that Blair's experience in Europe positioned him well for the European institutions of the future.

Sarkozy said he hoped he would be the last person to hold the bloc's existing six-month rotating presidency before the new president, with a two-and-a-half-year term in office, took over.

Common energy

Sarkozy said he wanted a political Europe with common energy, immigration and environment policies.

But in comments that could create tensions with Blair's successor in Downing Street, Gordon Brown, also pleaded for common agricultural and defence policies.

"Europe can't be an area of 450 million people and one of the richest in the world and rely for its protection on either chance or the United States," Sarkozy said.

"I am a friend of the United States but I insist that Europe give itself autonomous means to defend itself because if one is not capable of this, one is not capable of assuming one's independence."

Obstacles

In his speech, Blair praised Sarkozy's leadership and joked that he could quite easily fit in with his government.

Jacque Reland, a political expert from London Metropolitan University, told Al Jazeera that despite the political differences between France and the UK in the past, especially over Europe, it came as no surprise that Sarkozy advocated Blair as they have "so many things in common, it is uncanny".

Obstacles

Reland said there could be obstacles, however, to Blair one day being appointed.

He said: "The problem for Blair is that there would be opposition from the small countries who wouldn't like the EU to be ruled by an ex-leader of one of the big countries that would accentuate the stranglehold of those big countries.

"Another obstacle would be the fact that he is from the UK and the UK is not a fully-committed of the EU given they are not in the Euro and they have negotiated so many opt-outs in EU treaties."