Georgieva, Mogherini, Sikorski for EU High Rep. post, but how good is this roster

So we have official candidates for EU High Rep. with Kristalina Georgieva, Federica Mogherini and Radek Sikorski. It still can happen that the job will go to another person, and The Financial Times claims it will go to Mogherini, but if you look at those three candidates are they all up to this job in your opinion or not, in general is it a good roster? Read few comments.

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

the relevance of the next High Representative whoever he or she will be, will very much depend on his/her negotiation capacities (ability to act as an honest broker, generate consensus and coalition-building) in order to reach agreements timely. Knowledge is crucial, since expertise and technical information are well known assets as regards negotiations. Experience is also important. Two out of the three candidates for the post have previous experience in foreign affairs (being Foreign Ministers) and the other has experience as commissioner (with a portfolio in international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response). However, having experience as a national FM does not necessarily mean they have a profound knowledge of the EU foreign policy dossiers. In fact, according to the press, one of the criticisms some member states made regarding for instance the Italian candidate was precisely her “lack of experience”. Perhaps, the Bulgarian candidate has some advantage in this regard.

Furthermore, if you consider the criticisms concerning Mrs. Ashton mandate, namely the fact that she was accused of being a “weak leader”, one could expect that the next nominated for the post would have to be a well known politician with enough “leverage” to confront (if necessary) the leaders of some member states and with leadership capacities to build up the “group spirit” of the still new EEAS. This does not seem to be the case of the current candidates.

However, the negotiations of the top EU jobs are not only about choosing the right person for the right job. They also involve important trade-offs, namely to secure a “ramshackle” balance between all the stakeholders involved  (thus the remaining two top job’s negotiations – HR and President of the European Council – will be closely interlinked; the idea, at least initially, was to reach a kind of “package agreement”, arguably with the posts being divided between the centre-left and the centre- right).

Also, in what concerns how strong (and powerful) the new person in the job should be, it must be said that perhaps too much prominence could be counterproductive (for instance, if we consider the example of Delors’ presidencies, it is a fact that he managed to turn the President of the Commission as an equal to the leaders of members states; but according to many scholars his notoriety also contributed to the fact that after him member states became overtly against too much prominence from the Commission). So, again, perhaps a low profile candidate with solid negotiation skills and depth knowledge of the EU foreign policy issues can do as good a job as a high profile candidate (or perhaps even a better job than a high profile candidate).

Meanwhile, as you know, according to the press, while Mogherini’s nomination is not backed by the eastern member states, the chances for Sikorski and Georgieva have also diminish in face of an alleged understanding that the job should go to the socialists. Hence, it will be interesting to see if the leaders will manage to reach an agreement at the 30 August meeting.

Anke Schmidt-Felzmann, Researcher, Europe Programme, Swedish Institute of International Affairs

Kristalina Georgieva was already informally mentioned in Brussels circles as one of the main contenders for the post of High Representative before the summer, that is before she was formally put forward by Bulgaria as a nominee. She may seem to be a “nobody” to those who are not following closely international economic affairs and EU affairs, but she is in fact well-known and well respected in Brussels circles and has proven herself in her current post in the Commission for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management and in her previous posts at the World Bank. She is no doubt qualified and with her previous international experience at the World Bank, including her time in Moscow and her fluency in Russian, so she would seem to fulfill the necessary criteria of those demanding that the new High Representative be an individual capable of dealing with Russia. In addition, she is a representative of the Central and East European member states that have thus far not obtained any top EU posts. On top of that, she is a woman, in what looks like a very male dominated next European Commission. Her portfolio has however not really covered the major global security questions, but that does not mean that she would not be able to carry out these duties in a competent manner. The fact that she is not a first rank foreign and security policy candidate may also make her more palatable to some of the member states that are unwilling to appoint a heavyweight candidate with a clear foreign policy agenda of her own.

The nomination of Federica Mogherini has been widely criticized, especially in the Central and East European member states on the one hand for her position on Russia, but also, no doubt, for being Italian, and thus for the suspicion that she would even in the post of High Representative follow the traditionally rather soft and friendly policy of Italian politicians towards Russia. She is the least known candidate with the most limited international track-record of all the current contenders for the post of High Representative, but with her background in political science and work experience in foreign affairs she cannot be classified as unqualified. She would however face considerably more resistance from many member states as High Representative than Kristalina Georgieva who is less controversial and much more accepted as a credible candidate. One thing that perhaps speaks in Mogherini’s favour (in addition to being female) is that she is a representative of the younger generation, that she is well-educated and certainly competent in the field of foreign affairs. I do have my doubts about her winning the decisive votes however, and not just because she represents one of the old, larger member states that have traditionally obtained top EU posts, but also because she simply has not made herself a name in foreign and security policy and because she is less experienced in the Brussels machinery. Even more than Catherin Ashton, she would experience some start-up difficulties of carving out her place in Brussels and of managing the inter-institutional relations in an effective and efficient manner.

As to Radek Sikorski, he is the candidate who has been most visible in Europe and he is of all the candidates probably the one who is best known in the international arena. He most certainly has the necessary international networks and necessary standing to competently execute the job of High Representative. He is also a representative of Central and East European member states which is important to consider this time round, as it now is about time for at least one of the top jobs to go to a representative of Central and Eastern Europe. He is however controversial, both at home and in Brussels circles. Some regard his views on Polish relations with the US (that were recently revealed) and even his hardline position on Russia as problematic, others consider him a solid candidate, not least because he is an experienced player in European foreign and security policy, has the necessary language skills and credibility in Eastern Europe and the Eastern neighbourhood and is “Western” educated with his degrees from Oxford University (let’s not forget that he is married to American journalist Anne Applebaum!). I suspect that his criticism of David Cameron is not going help him win the British vote, but he certainly still is in with some chance.

I believe we have a few more contenders for the post of High Representative, even if they have not been put forward as such.  Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans has also been mentioned as a possible candidate and he would seem well suited for the position, albeit again representing the male contingent (and belonging to the somewhat older generation). Even he possesses some on the ground experience with Russia from his time at the Dutch embassy in Moscow, which would fulfil the currently often mentioned requirement of being capable of handling the EU’s relations with Russia in a more effective manner in the coming years. His command of a range of languages that enable him to engage with the German, French, Italian and Russian counterparts in their native tongue also make him a more versatile nominee capable of brokering agreements between key EU member states but also third states. He has not been particularly controversial and is well respected. He may well be a suitable compromise candidate acceptable to those that oppose Sikorski or Mogherini, although the fact that he is a representative of one of the founding member states may count against him from the point of view of the Central and Eastern European states.

My own personal favourite candidate for the post of High Representative is however the Swedish Commissioner Cecilia Malmström who has recently been confirmed by the Swedish government as nominee for a second term as Commissioner. While she is not officially considered as a candidate for the post of High Representative, she does fulfill in my view the necessary criteria, not least because she is female, but also because she has the personal characteristics to stand her ground both in Brussels and vis-à-vis third states, including Russia, as she has proven both during her time as Member of the European Parliament and even in her current position as Commissioner for Home Affairs. She also possesses additional experience as Europe Minister for Sweden, which means that she has gathered considerable experience of dealing with European and foreign affairs from the different relevant perspectives (EP, Member State and Commission, in addition to her academic background). She is one of the few female nominees to the next European Commission and belongs like Federica Mogherini to the younger generation. She is also very well known in Brussels circles, has delivered a solid performance in what is a fairly difficult portfolio, and she has the drive and enthusiasm that could make a difference to the post of High Representative now that the first teething problems have been overcome. She is also multilingual and coming from a “neutral” Nordic member states, she may well be palatable to the member states that oppose the “old, Western” or “new, Eastern” candidates for their position on relations with the US or Russia.

The question of whether party politics will play into the appointment of the High Representative remains critical to the range of candidates that can be considered, but until we know who the successor of Van Rompuy is, and even who will be appointed as the Head of the Eurozone group, we will not be able to say for sure if the High Representative really has to come from the socialist camp, and whether it has to be a female candidate…

It will be interesting to see if any of the official and potential contenders for the post will make it. I would however not be completely surprised if the High Representative in the end turns out to be someone else entirely.

Nicholas WrightSenior Research Associate, School of Political, Social and International Studies, University of East Anglia

First of all, it is important to say that whoever is appointed to the role will face a challenging set of tasks both in terms of developing and implementing EU foreign policy where this has been agreed by the member states, and in terms of ensuring the ongoing development of the EEAS into a coherent, efficient and effective foreign affairs institution. I know Cathy Ashton came in for a great deal of criticism when she first took up the role, particularly for her apparent inability to get a grip or the organisational aspects of the role, but not only was she charged with establishing the new institution, she had to drive its policy and policy-making agenda and work to implement this. Any one of these tasks on its own is demanding, so trying to do all three at the same time was a Sisyphean task. To make this task even harder, perhaps the most significant challenge facing the next incumbent will be developing a coherent and effective policy in terms of dealing with Russia. The EU’s relations with Moscow have reached what is probably an all-time low and navigating this particularly difficult relationship will require tact, skill and a great deal of quiet and continuous diplomacy, not least around Europe’s major capitals. As the policy on Iran’s nuclear programme and particularly the sanctions regime has shown, achieving consensus is hard – maintaining it over an extended period of time can be even harder.

Of the three candidates you mention, I think it is noteworthy that 2 of them are women. Gender balance remains a significant challenge in EU institutions and it was important last time round that at least one of the top jobs – Council President, Commission President, EU High Representative – went to a woman. That does not mean it should go to a woman simply to achieve a gender balance. The new High Representative should be the most qualified person for the job; the fact that two of those under consideration as being most qualified are women is the positive point. It is a reminder of depth of talent available to the European Council’s decision-makers.

As for the candidates themselves, each of the three has their pros and cons. Federica Mogherini is a young, dynamic foreign minister in an Italian government that under Matteo Renzi seems to be more energised and have more purpose than any has had for some time. However, having only been in post since 21 February this year, legitimate questions can be asked as to whether she has sufficient foreign affairs experience to be Europe’s most senior diplomat. Remember, the current incumbent came into the role with virtually no significant foreign affairs experience, so will Europe’s leaders want to risk another period of potential uncertainty as she learns the ropes? That said, Italy is an important EU state which considers itself on the front line in terms of the ongoing refugee crisis faced on the Mediterranean. Given that a Spaniard and a Briton have occupied the EU’s top foreign policy post, it may feel that it is again the right time for a Southern European state to once again hold the office. Mogherini is obviously talented and could add an energy to EU foreign policy that has been somewhat lacking over the last five years.  However, her opposition to strong sanctions on Moscow would place her at odds with some important EU figures. It is interesting that Emma Bonino, a former Italian foreign minister and former European Commissioner has not been suggested for the role.

Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria has extensive experience not only as a European Commissioner – and therefore understands how decisions are made and how the game is played – but also managing one of the most important external affairs portfolios, International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response. She has worked in the World Bank as well, and was for a while its director in Russia – and is fluent in Russian – all of which may be invaluable given the foreign policy significance Russia currently has and will continue to have for the EU for at least the life of the next Commission if not beyond. The question is whether potential ‘hawks’ on the EU’s policy to Russia would be satisfied with Bulgaria holding this crucial portfolio, given their important bilateral links. Equally, Bulgaria may reasonably feel that it is time for a ‘new’ member state to hold one of the 3 high profile portfolios as well.

Finally, Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister, is a very interesting candidate. Until the recent incident where his unguarded comments about David Cameron amongst others were recorded in a restaurant before being broadcast to the world, I would have considered him the most likely successor to Cathy Ashton. He is a high-profile, heavyweight politician with extensive foreign and defence policy experience who commands respect in European capitals and in Washington. He has also been an outspoken critic of Moscow. Indeed, given that Poland may feel itself to be increasingly on the front-line in the ongoing tensions between Europe and Russia, having the foreign affairs portfolio would be an important signal of intent by the EU to Russia. Equally, those working for a de-escalation in tensions may feel that Sikorski is a little too controversial or outspoken. Were he to get the post, it might also go some way to cementing Poland’s place as a leading EU foreign policy player and the heavyweight of the more recent accession states.

I am not a betting man, particularly, but I suspect that Mme Georgieva ticks enough boxes – and is also unlikely to step on Prime Ministerial or Presidential toes – to be seen not as a compromise candidate necessarily, but as someone who will be able to take up the foreign policy reins without too much drama or fuss.

Amelia Hadfield, Senior Lecturer, Politics and International Relations, Jean Monnet Chair in European Foreign Affairs, Canterbury Christ Church University

The choice of an EU foreign policy supremo is not an easy one. The EU is a liberal entity, with laudable neoliberal principles, but an unhappy track record of lacking the pragmatic focus to implement them properly. Let’s ensure the choice of the success to HRVP Catherine Ashton ticks all the boxes that the EU, as a foreign policy actor, and its external audience, requires, and can work with. Of the three proposed candidates, I’m inclined to think that the real showdown will be between Georgieva and Sikorski. A brief review of a couple of factors is helpful, including their foreign policy background, their east-west capabilities, and contextual factors.

Background in Foreign Affairs

In this regard, Sikorski takes the lead uncontested, having served as an Under-Secretary of State at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and as Minister of Foreign Affairs since 2007. Well educated, articulate and with an obvious penchant, and indeed flair, for international affairs, Sikorski has a natural understanding of European and international issues, and would not have a hugely steep learning curve. However, stepping from the head of one’s national foreign terrain into the EU’s far larger diplomacy machinery is a considerable challenge. Here, Georgieva has something of an advantage, as serving European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, since 2010. Her CV is equally international, perhaps more so than Sikorski’s, with a particular emphasis on sustainable development and environmental strategy. She knows the ins and outs of Brussels, the functioning of the college of Commissioners, and most importantly, has experience coordinating three major EU actors: her own DG of International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, DG DevCo and the EEAS: all three forming the central foreign affairs planks of the EU. Both Sikorski and Georgieva have a reputation as formbidable doers; cutting through red tape to make a swift and effective difference. Georgieva may have a slight lead in that she’s overseen the EU’s foreign aid and intervention at first hand, and (sadly, unlike Ashton), has generally emerged with a solid reputation for coordinating assistance in difficult areas, including the Philippines, Syria, Gaza, Ukraine, and now Western and Central Africa as result of the Ebola outbreak. These are major chunks of the EU’s expanding neighbourhood, so expertise in dealing both with these states, and the familiarity with the EU’s own diplomatic machinery, is a major calling card.

East West

Equally however, a candidate who emerges from, and represents the troubled central European space, represents a major plus. In these particularly strenuous times it is imperative to have an individual with serious experience in dealing with both Russia and the EU’s the Eastern Neighbourhood. Georgieva, who also speaks fluent Russian, has been World Bank Director for Russian Federation based in Russia since 2004. She clearly has a decent idea of the diplomatic niceties (and not-so-niceities) entailed in EU-Russia relations. On the other hand, Sikorski, who also speaks Russian, was one of the main negotiators in Ukraine crisis, and has emerged as a solid, reliable, insightful diplomat helping to steer the EU through its gravest foreign policy impasse since the Cold War. In its relations with Russia, it is clear that the EU needs more than a bridge builder. It needs a serious interlocutor, and even better, a genuine east-west ambassador, in which the meaning of cooperation is not lost at the expense of different languages and attitudes. An exceptionally tactful, but also pragmatic hand will be needed to steer the EEAS, aid the Commission, and support the Council, in its future dealings with Moscow. Sikorski’s reputed skepticism of Russian policy and desire for robust responses are certainly necessary at this present time; but they may not necessarily prove sufficient. Additional soft leverage may come in handy, and Georgieva may just have the upper hand in tact.

Contextual Factors

In this category are various issues, one of which might be the “female factor”, i.e. ensuring that the EU continues to push to have women in top-ranking positions. A good start was made with HR/VP Ashton, but there is no rule that the EU cannot have a second female HR/VPs. In addition, the support of key EU Member States including France, Germany, the UK, Poland and the recently troublesome Hungary. Unsurprisingly, UK Prime Minister David Cameron might have objections to Sikorsky after the leaks of ‘Tapegate’, in which Sikorsky made a number of disobliging comments about Cameron’s apparent mishandling of EU affairs. Cameron however has been already overruled 26 to 2 (with Hungary also voting against alongside the UK) when the EU elected its new President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who is ostensibly pro-European against DC’s vehement opposition. Cameron may not feel like vocalising his opposition yet again.

The dark horse – Federica Mogherini

Lastly, while she indeed has a wide range of experience, none of Mogherin’s positions are genuinely significant enough to count as a major boost to a future EEAS leader. Italian minister of foreign affairs for less than 7 months, MOgherini will have some sense of the diplomatic terrain, but this is not exactly the time needed to grips with the job itself, let alone emerge as genuine EU “spokesperson.”   However, CVs don’t count for everything. We should remember that Ashton’s career was very similar to Mogherini’s, in terms of focus, and Ashton – despite a tough start – turned out credibly.

Ultimately it comes down to top-level EU/World FP experience of Sikorski vs hands on experience of Georgieva within the EU and across the world. In the words of Slovak student Michal Gloznek, recent Canterbury Christ Church graduate (BSc in Politics and International Relations), “Slovakia would arguably prefer Sikorski, who brings vital Visegrad Group understandings to his well-established perspective on EU relations; it may be just the right balance to maintaining good east-west relations within the EU itself, and the right degree of pragmatism for tackling Russia.”

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

The three names that have been floated are of course very distinct choices of who will succeed Catherine Ashton.

With Georgieva, there is a Brussels insider with a strong track record in the European Commission. That may be good to overcome some of the squabbles between the EEAS and the Commission, or it may prove a hindrance to develop a genuine EEAS approach to doing business. Georgieva would mean a focus on managing the EEAS as part of the EU machinery.

Mogherini has received a lot of criticism already, in particular on her stance towards Russia. In the current political situation, it is hard to see how this could be overcome to secure the nomination. I think in general without a track record we cannot really assess what she may be capable of once in office, but it does mean she would be a risky choice.

Sikorski on the other hand appears to be the foreign policy pundits’ choice because of his clear views. While this appeal to think tankers is understandable, one wonders how this would work out once some of the larger member states find themselves on the receiving end of Sikorski’s outspoken ways. He is also mostly judged on his recent European pronouncements and his record in Polish politics is not really scrutinised much in the European press.

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One Response

  1. […] month ago, I shared a few thoughts about the candidates for HR here. The last weeks have shown it to have been a classic case of ‘the problem with prediction is […]

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