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High Representative on Foreign Affairs

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While not a president of an EU institution, the post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is an important one. The High Representative is effectively the EU’s foreign secretary, acting on behalf of all 28 nations where consensus can be reached. The position also carries vice-presidency of the European Commission, and the High Representative is appointed by the President of the Commission at the same time as the other Commissioners are appointed, from the 28 candidates put forward by member states.


The post was first created in the Treaty of Amsterdam, with a more limited role and the title High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy. The first officeholder was Javier Solana, but it evolved considerably under Catherine Ashton (UK) who urged the EU to act quickly on the Lisbon Treaty’s proposals to give her more power to address the 2010 Haiti earthquake disaster.

The Lisbon Treaty increased the position’s power and gave it the current title and position on the Commission. The High Representative also chairs the Foreign Affairs Council, which is when the foreign minister of each member state meets within the Council of the European Union. Since 2010 the role has been assisted by the European External Action Service, which works as a foreign ministry and diplomatic service for the EU. It employs roughly 5,000 people and is based in Brussels, though it has delegations (like a nation’s embassies) across the world.

While Solana was often sidelined, Ashton used the enhanced role more strongly. After getting all the EU states’ foreign services to work together for the first time in relieving Haiti, she played a prominent role in the Middle East Peace Process, the protests against Victor Yanukovych in Ukraine, Kosovo-Serbia relations, and Iran’s agreements on nuclear development which led to the EU ending its Iranian embargo. Federica Mogherini took the role in 2014 against Eastern European countries’ fears that she was too soft on Russia over the Ukraine. She helped cement the international agreement on the Iranian nuclear plan, tried to advance EU-US trade talks, and helped discuss refugee policy with Turkey during the 2015-16 migration crisis.

What does the High Representative do?

In addition to chairing the Foreign Affairs Council and attending the Commission and European Council, the High Representative is head of the European Defence Agency. They are responsible for the EU’s foreign policy, asides trade, development and enlargement, which are decided by the whole Commission. They often have to present their policies to the European Parliament.

Federica Mogherini

The Italian Federica Mogherini was appointed High Representative for the Juncker Commission in 2014. She was born in 1973 in Rome, Italy, and grew up to join the Italian Communist Youth Federation from 1988, and the Democratic Party in 2007. She was elected to the Chamber of Deputies (Italian parliament) in 2008 and appointed Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2014 under the new government of Matteo Renzi. She was nominated to the Commission by Renzi and confirmed as High Representative in November 2014.