Yes, this is really the official title of the position that will be created once the Lisbon treaty is in force. Why not “EU Foreign minister” you may ask – well, the British delegation successfully managed to lobby against the title of “EU Foreign Minister” in the negotiations (supported by quite a few others). Strange, that they did not try to rename this “European Council President” into “Chairman of the European Council” – that would have made sense! Anyway, Global Europe has a good overview about the “job description” and the various unclear provisions in the Lisbon treaty.
However, despite all the talk about the European Council President, this is actually the more important position for one single reason: The High Rep will be able to use the EU foreign policy machinery including (post EEAS) – Commission staff (RELEX), Council Secretariat staff (including ESDP and CFSP tools plus all the ‘Special Representatives’) and the newly created European External Action Service.
Moreover the new High Rep will be a Vice-President of the European Commission and chair the Foreign Affairs Councils. Therefore I agree with Simon Hix who said “The president could end up being all prestige and no power, while the high representative is real power and little prestige.” The European Council President only chairs a couple of summits and has no job description – it is not even clear whether he will get office staff… Well, one sentence in the Lisbon treaty could become problematic:
It is the Council President (President of the European Council) who will “ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy”. He shall do that, however: “without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy”.
So, team play will be necessary at least to a certain extent. However, it is very unfortunate that the question of who becomes High Rep depends on who will be chosen as European Council President – and not the other way round!
So let’s have a quick round of possible candidates:
Today, speculations included David Miliband (UK Foreign Secretary -ruled himself out on twitter!), frequently mentioned is also Olli Rehn (EU enlargement commissioner) as well as Ursula Plassnik (former Foreign Minister of Austria) and Dora Bakoyannis (former Foreign Minister of Greece). Several other names have been mentioned in the last couple of months: former External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten, former Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel and former NATO Secretary-General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
Anyone in there who could be the next High Rep? I think David Miliband could be a good candidate but he might not be experienced enough – and, given his ambition to become the next leader of the Labour party, I doubt whether he is a serious candidate. Let’s ask him in 5 years again! What about the rest? They all seem rather boring with a lack vision for EU foreign policy. Unfortunately I do not know much about Ursula Plassnik and Dora Bakoyannis. Chris Patten and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer are certainly well respected in Brussels. Especially Jaap de Hoop Scheffer could be a serious candidate given his NATO experience – he would be a solid and diplomatic High Rep without being too demanding towards member states. Olli Rehn lacks experience and being EU enlargement Commissioner may not be enough to get the job. However, a High Rep without political ambition (de Hoop Scheffer) or lack of experience (Rehn) could exactly be the sort of person the European Council is looking for…
But is that everything we can come up with? The High Rep should be THE foreign policy authority of the EU, with the ability to negotiate deals in the Foreign Affairs Council – so the person needs to be high profile and should have considerable foreign policy experience. European Foreign Policy is one policy in which citizens want to see a stronger EU. The new High Rep needs to be able to communicate this clearly and passionately. Moreover, the person is expected to negotiate worldwide – so there we need someone recognizable with a proven track record in international negotiation. (If Tony Blair was serious about a EU job – he should go for that one and not the one with prestige and the misleading title). So who else could be doing this kind of job:
Joschka Fischer – a former German foreign minister. He would certainly tick all the boxes. He has huge foreign policy experience, is known internationally and with good connections in the Middle East and in the US (after being a Visiting Fellow at Princeton and working in Madeleine Albright’s consultancy). Recently, he started working in support of the Nabucco pipeline. He has been a very charismatic and popular politician – and can still fill conference centres in London, Brussels or Washington! He would certainly be able to give the EU a real voice in foreign affairs. That unfortunately rules him out - exactly that is not wanted by our dear politicians.
Martti Ahtisaari – a former president of Finland. Wouldn’t it be great if Obama and Athisaari met and the press could have a headline like “Two Nobel peace prize winners demand…” – certainly Ahtisaari is very knowledgeable and respected internationally. He has an excellent reputation as a conflict mediator (he got the Nobel peace price for that!) and has been an active advocate of a more powerful EU foreign policy. Again not the best thing to do in the present political climate. He might lack a bit of charisma (compared to Fischer…) which could be seen as an asset by the European Council…
Carl Bildt – the current Swedish foreign minister. Another strong candidate judging on his vast foreign policy experience. He is the only serving foreign minister of all the candidates which is an advantage because connections are important! However, some (France, Germany) often claim he is too outspoken on Russia. He is a well known blogger and often grabs media attention with some bold statements. Moreover, being in the spotlight of EU politics due to the Swedish Council Presidency might be helpful (although the bold statement could ruin it…).
So, who has realistic chances? At the moment the race seems very open (or the secret is being kept well…) – Jaap de Hoop Sheffer, Chris Patten and Olli Rehn could be realistic candidates, the joker could be Carl Bildt. Chances are that we get someone that has not been subject of any rumours lately. (The French are suspiciously silent…) And obviously it always depends a lot on who will become European Council President in terms of political and geographical balance…
But one thing is certain: unfortunately the best candidates will have absolutely no chance of getting the job!