Open Europe Blog

Europe’s next foreign minister?

With the current Commission term due to expire next year speculation is already turning to who will replace the current crop – especially the ‘top jobs’ of Commission President (or will Barroso go for a Roosevelt-esque third term?) and the high representative for foreign affairs, a post currently occupied by Britain’s own Baroness Cathy Ashton.

There has been much speculation that following her widely acknowledged ‘low-key’ performance in the role (in fairness this was not entirely her fault), her successor would be a well-established ‘foreign policy star’, with Poland’s Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski widely tipped. However, while Sikorski would indeed have a degree of ‘star appeal’ and foreign policy credibility (certainly when compared with Ashton), here are the reasons why we think this is unlikely.

Firstly, Sikorski is hugely ambitious and it is difficult to see him agreeing to take-up a position where his ability to seriously influence events will be limited by the well documented limitations of EU foreign policy. In particular Sikorski has ambitions for greater EU military co-operation and will unlikely be satisfied by firing off carefully worded press releases about human rights abuses in developing countries. Yet while many EU countries want to see the EEAS delivering more, many are also reluctant to hand over too much competence in the field of foreign policy decision making to the EU given very real differences of opinion on key issues – most recently Syria. Likewise, EU defence co-operation remains more realistic on paper than on the ground, not least with current spending restrictions, while the recent Cypriot crisis demonstrated Europe’s weakness in that it was willing to gamble Russia gaining greater political and economic influence on the island.

Furthermore, assuming that Sikorski genuinely wants the job, he is somewhat of a marmite character which could cost him support in national capitals. His strong neo-conservative and Atlanticist tendencies are likely to cost him support, not least in Paris, while the Germans may fear that his candidacy would antagonise Russia. Conversely, he has also become a vocal champion for greater EU integration, famously calling on Germany to play an active leading role in Europe, which could also cost him support, especially in the current climate. While his Atlanticism and his strong British links (he was a contemporary of David Cameron and Boris Johnson at Oxford) ought to secure UK support, his rather clumsly recent intervention into UK domestic politics, when he announced that Poland would not help the UK to “wreck or paralyse the EU” and listing a number of tired and clichéd ‘EU myths’ is not likely to gone down well in Whitehall and Westminster.

Finally, there is also much speculation that current Polish PM Donald Tusk could be being lined up to replace Barroso, in which case Sikorski’s candidacy for high representative would be a non-starter.

All in all we would expect the next high representative, while likely to be more heavyweight than Baroness Ashton, will nonetheless not be someone with a personality and profile to challenge national leaders’ primacy in the area of foreign policy.

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