EU top jobs: What it requires to replace Ashton and Van Rompuy

Taking into account what High Rep. Ashton and President of European Council Van Rompuy did in last five years what their successors (whoever it will be) should definitely avoid and what examples they should follow? Read few comments.

Alex Warleigh-LackProfessor, The School of Politics, University of Surrey

Re Van Rompuy: the key for his successor will be to figure out what exactly the heads of government want from the role, especially regarding the new Commission President. In the previous EU cycle, the Council Presidency was supposed to be the focal point and provide leadership – but that role may now be seized by Mr Juncker, given that the Spitzenkandidaten process eventually worked out. I think the thing to avoid would be trying to make an overt power grab. The thing to do would be to pick up as many tips as possible from Van Rompuy about the current agendas in teach member state, so that there’s as seamless a diplomatic transition as possible.

Re Ashton: her successor will in many ways have a different job, since her tenure was focused so much on getting the EEAS up and running. Now that it is, the incumbent will need to ensure he or she has a high profile so that the EU contribution to global diplomacy is optimally delivered, even if it will largely be behind the scenes. This doesn’t require a ‘traffic-stopping presence’, as was said of Tony Blair, for example, but a clear presence and sense of credibility in international summits.

Isabel Camisão, Doutoramento em Ciência Política e Relações Internacionais, Escola de Economia e Gestão,
Universidade do Minho

I believe that the renewed High Representative (HR) and the permanent President of the European Council posts created by the Lisbon Treaty were indeed important improvements when compared with the system that existed under Nice. In what concerns the HR, besides the new institutional arrangements, namely the creation of the European External Action Service, the new competences gave the HR a real right of initiative in the field of foreign and security policy. As for the President of the European Council his chief job was the representation of the Union at the summit level and assuring the continuity of the general political directions and priorities of the Union. However, the importance of both posts is very much dependent on the traits and style of the person appointed for the job.

During her mandate (but particularly early in her tenure), Mrs Ashton was criticised by the press for not being “strong enough” for the position. She was also accused of not managing her priorities correctly. However, it must be said that since she was the first HR to endorse the new mandate resulting from Lisbon she had the difficult task of “set the job description”. Perhaps her greater legacy was laying down the foundations of the now operational European External Service. A former Belgian prime minister, Mr Rompuy was not particularly well known when was elected President of the European Council. He too had to “set the job description” and had the hard job of “sharing” the representation of the Union with the President of the Commission (and in fact with the HR). A situation that required a great deal of coordination so as to not be perceived as a “contest” between the two (or the three). Mr Rompuy defined himself as a chairman (rather than a leader), and he is described by the media as a “low profile” President that prefers “behind the scenes” negotiations to the media loopholes.

The importance of the next High Representative and the next President of the European Council, whoever he or she will be, will very much depend on his/her ability to generate consensus and to bridge the gap between the common interest of all member states and the position of some member states. Especially as regards the HR, the double-hatted situation (Vice-president /High Representative) is a particularly difficult one to cope with, since it requires securing a delicate balance between the preferences of the Commission and the preferences of the Council. Furthermore, the HR is expected to act as an honest broker in security and military matters, sensitive issues where unanimity is still often needed for reaching a decision. As for the President of the European Council his/her action (and assertiveness) could be crucial to counterbalance some national leaders perceived prominence. Both posts will require technical and managerial competences, but also strong leadership skills. He or she must be able to create empathy and to communicate effectively a vision/strategy (that ideally would balance ideals with capabilities) able to inspire the other stakeholders. In order to do that, he or she must also be capable of understanding the context, and must have the intuition and skills to take advantage of the windows of opportunity for change (that sometimes are open only for a very short period of time). In sum, to fully reach the potentialities of these two important posts, it is crucial to recognize trends, to understand the preferences, positions and strengths of the various key-players, so as to decide which skills, negot

Dimitris Tsarouhas Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, Bilkent University

The two posts are quite different and require different handling. Van Rompuy’s successor will do well to maintain his predecessor’s organizational skills and willingness to work with the Presidents of the Commission and the Parliament in harmonious fashion. What she or he should add to the job is more politics, an ability to rise above member state politicking and express in clear and simple words the direction of travel that(s)he feels necessary for the Union. The mandate allows for that, and the EU desperately needs a high-profile face that will directly confront the very murky waters the Union has entered over the last few years.

Catherine Ashton has been criticized very heavily and for the most part unfairly. Her quiet diplomacy skills did not prove all that disastrous at all, not least in the case of the Iran negotiations. She could have achieved more (e.g. Ukraine) but foreign policy is hotly contested by member states and the “Foreign Minister for Europe” title was more cosmetic than real. Still, her successor can and should be more vocal in pushing member states to achieve a rapid and clear consensus on major policy challenges. The Union needs to come up with a policy on the Middle East…yesterday, and very little progress has been made on that front her successor should also be less media shy, and engage with the EU public directly on many more occasions than Ashton did.

The EU needs a change of policy direction above all else. Regardless of whether agreeable faces (such as Thorning-Schmidt) get the top jobs or not, it is policies and not personalities that hold the future of the Union in their hands.

Jost-Henrik Morgenstern-Pomorski, Postgraduate Researcher, Loughborough University

The topic of this week is of course who will get which job, as a quick search for the hashtag #EUTopJobs will illustrate. In terms of what comes after the nomination, I think whoever comes up as HR/VP has three sets of challenges waiting for her/him.

First, since restructuring the EEAS’ organisation after the 2013 review has been postponed until the nomination of the new HR, this is the new HR’s first chore. If we’ve learned anything from the first term, it is to undertake the organisational change swiftly and by engaging allies among the member states, in the Commission and among the EEAS staff. The closed door approach of the Ashton’s first term has shown clear limitations. Organisational change does not come easy and the new HR will need to invest some capital into it from the start. Her service has a lot of talent and while a lot of resentment and disappointment has accumulated, an open and direct approach in communicating change can rectify this.

Second, one of the major drags on the organisation have been the relations with other Brussels’ actors in particular the Commission. It is time to make gains from the routinised interactions between EEAS and Commission without struggling for preeminence.

Third, an active HR with an agenda of its own would be helpful in giving the organisation purpose beyond existence. What is the kind of diplomacy, thinking, policy development models the HR/ EEAS want to follow? Despite some successes of the first HR, largely on the wings of the US in relation to Iran, we are still unsure about what this service is able to deliver across the board rather than in a specific negotiation setting.



One Response

  1. […] on the three organisational challenges for the new High Rep (irrespective of who it will be) on Matisak’s A stamp on the World: Restructuring, routine & […]

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