Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Institutional Architecture of the European Union IV:
High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

Introduced by the Amsterdam Treaty (1999), the High Representative was in charge for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. With the Treaty of Lisbon (2009), the post also took over the responsibilities hitherto covered by the External Relations Commissioner, and at the same time changing to the current name.

Until the entry into force of the amendments laid out in the Lisbon Treaty, the Secretary General of the Council of the European Union held the High Representative post. With Lisbon, the post became a separate one, and British Commissioner Catherine Ashton became the first one to take office.

Remaining Commissioner for External Relations and Vice-President of the Commission, the High Representative is in charge of external affairs, which is why s/he is often considered the equivalent of a country’s Foreign Minister. The High Representative holds a number of other offices, such as President of the Foreign Affairs Council (i.e. the Council of the European Union consisting of each member state’s Ministers for Foreign Affairs) and President of the European Defence Agency, established in 2004. Interestingly, de facto the High Representative can probably not be of Danish nationality, as Denmark has opted out of this Agency. However, there is nothing in the Treaties (de jure) preventing a Dane from taking this office.

Moreover, the High Representative was Secretary General of the now defunct Western European Union. Importantly, s/he also takes part in European Council meetings but cannot vote as s/he is not an actual member of the European Council.

by Bjørn Clasen

Some reference sources
Catherine Ashton’s page on the official European Union website and Glossary
Unofficial website of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
European Defence Agency’s offical website

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