High Representative Josep Borrell takes office: Germany supports an active EU foreign policy


Foreign Minister Maas presents Josep Borrell with a small gift before the new High Representative chairs his first EU Foreign Ministers meeting, © Felix Zahn/photothek.net

09.12.2019 - Article

Borrell chaired the Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels for the first time today as the new High Representative of the EU. Foreign Minister Maas pledged to support him in strengthening the EU’s external Relations.

Josep Borrell, Spain’s former Foreign Minister, has been the EU’s new High Representative since 1 December. The EU Foreign Ministers met today in Brussels for their monthly meeting, which took place for the first time under Borrell’s chairmanship. The Federal Government welcomes the fact that a committed European is set to coordinate and shape common foreign and security policy in the coming years.

What does the High Representative do?

The post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has existed since 1999. With the Treaty of Lisbon signed in 2009, the Office of the Commissioner for External Relations was merged into the Office of the High Representative, who is always also one of the Vice-Presidents of the Commission. The High Representative is intended to give the EU a “face” and a “voice” to the outside world. The High Representative heads the European External Action Service (EEAS), a dedicated substructure that supports his or her tasks. Josep Borrell studied aeronautical engineering and holds a doctorate in economics. He was active on the European stage as President of the European Parliament from 2004 to 2007. Borrell announced that his first official trip would take him to Pristina. In so doing, he is demonstrating that the relationship between Serbia and Kosovo will be one of his priorities.

A stronger role for the EU in the world is required

Borrell and the Federal Government agree that the EU needs a more active foreign and security policy. Borrell stated the following in a letter to the EU Foreign Ministers prior to the meeting: “The EU has the option of becoming a player, a true geostrategic actor, or being mostly the playground.” Heiko Maas supported this view in Brussels this morning. Maas said that the EU was a global power factor and needed to adopt an enlightened stance with respect to power. He added that improvements were needed to the way in which the Foreign Affairs Council works and that it must be able to take a stand more swiftly in order to play an active role in the global commitment to European values and interests.

Human rights: new EU sanctions regime launched

The Foreign Ministers made considerable progress in the fight for human rights in Brussels today. In the future, the EU member states want to respond with joint sanctions when human rights are severely violated. Heiko Maas had the following to say in this regard:

As the EU, we must show that we are serious about upholding human rights. This is why we need a sanctions mechanism that makes it clear that the EU is prepared to act.

The political agreement will now be translated into legal instruments. These instruments will be used for the most serious human rights violations, such as genocide, torture, slavery and systematic sexual violence. No matter whether state or non‑state actors are involved, the sanctions regime is intended to send a message of deterrence and to hold perpetrators to account.

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