Whoever is appointed as the next HR/VP in 2019 needs to enjoy the backing of all EU leaders, including the leader of his/her home member state.

The HR/VP is an influential figure who leads the European External Action Service (EEAS) and shapes EU foreign, security and defence policy. His/her main responsibilities are outlined in articles 18 and 27 of the Treaty on EU. He/she is appointed for a five-year term by the European Council with the agreement of the Commission President. The HR/VP conducts and contributes to the development of the EU’s foreign and security policy and also contributes to the development of the Union’s security and defence policy. He/she also chairs and sets the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council, where the Member States’ foreign and sometimes also defence ministers meet. When acting in his/her VP role, the HR/VP is responsible for issues in the Commission with external relations aspects and for coordinating the Union’s external action in development assistance, trade, humanitarian aid and crisis response. Last but not least, he/she heads the European Defence Agency (EDA) and chairs the board of the EU Institute for Security Studies.

It is often forgotten that all HRs and HR/VPs have so far come from the ranks of the Party of European Socialists (PES). This is due to an informal understanding on the way that appointments to the EU’s most senior positions are made: the largest European party gets to appoint the Commission President, the second largest the HR/VP, and the one that has the most seats in the European Council gets to appoint its President. In every European election since 1999, the second largest party has been PES. This has enabled them to control the HR/VP position without interruption for almost two decades.

By the control the PES holds over the HR/VP position, it gives it influence over the substance and direction of EU foreign, security and defence policy that is disproportionate to the size of its representation in the European Parliament and in the European Council. By controlling the HR/VP position, PES gets to indirectly set the agenda and work programme of the Foreign Affairs Council, take care of issues in the Commission that have to do with external relations, have an extra voice in European Council meetings, represent the EU around the world, and make senior appointments to the EEAS and the EDA. Also, PES’s control over the HR/VP position enables certain views and beliefs to direct EU foreign policy.

Since Juncker’s successor as Commission President will almost certainly again come from the ranks of the EPP, this means that the next HR/VP will most likely come from PES again and probably be a woman, given that the next Commission President looks to be an EPP man.

The High Representative is appointed by the European Council, acting by qualified majority. However, as the person is also a Vice President of the European Commission, their nomination has to be approved in the same way as the rest of the College of Commissioners. The position of High Representative will probably be part of a package deal also involving the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council. As the Member States and MEPs assess their option in the complex wrangle that will follow the elections in May, there are differing views on whether any package deal in June should be kept secret, if that were even possible, or made public, which would allow the Parliament to mobilize opposition against the putative High Representative.

The identity of the High Representative has to be known before Member States nominate their members of the College of Commissioners. The procedure for appointing the EU’s next High Representative is fraught with uncertainties that make the outcome hard to predict. Potential candidates to succeed Federica Mogherini on the 1st of November are not legion.

The next High Representative must be a consensus builder rather than a dealmaker. But it will have to be a leader willing to take a personal risk that the High Rep can bring other stakeholders on board for strategic choices, including the various EU foreign ministries with their different expectations. The High Rep also needs to be an experienced and knowledgeable player on global issues, rather than a domestic politician. The High Rep needs to excel at building a loyal and dedicated team to whom she/he can delegate, containing knowledge on priority issues as well as on the less core issues which do not require the High Rep’s attention. Above all the High Rep will need to be a person who understands the need for the EU to continue reaching out to the rest of the world from a perspective of its liberal values of tolerance, openness and free trade.

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