5th Mar 2021


Introduction to the Minister for Foreign Affairs

The Union Minister for Foreign Affairs - normally called the Foreign Minister - is one of the Convention's novel creations. This post is created by merging the responsibilities of the Commissioner for External Relations (at present Chris Patten) and the High Representative for the Council (at present Javier Solana). This is intended to create a stronger European voice on international issues.

The present situation

Within the field of foreign and security policy, the Union basically has a two-tier structure - foreign and security policy is located both within the Commission and within the Council. This reflects, on the one hand, the fact that the Union is becoming an actor in its own right on the international stage, and on the other hand, the fact that the Union consists of 15 states collaborating on issues of common concern.

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The Commissioner for External Relations is responsible for both the Common Foreign and Security Policy (see art. 18.3 TEU) and community aspects, such as trade and development policy, and external aspects of the European internal market, such as competition, the environment, justice and home affairs and consumer protection (see art. 211 TEC) - the responsibility for the latter areas are shared with three other commissioners.

Within the Council structure, it is the presidency's job to represent the Union to the outside world on Foreign and Security Policy matters. The presidency is assisted in this job by the High Representative (see art. 18.3 TEU). So the competencies of the Commission and the Council overlap.

Why reform?

The overlap of competencies was seen by many members of the Convention as one of the main reasons for what they perceived as a poorly functioning foreign policy. This feeling grew with the Iraq war. Therefore the proposal for a Foreign Minister who could merge the competences of the Commission and the Council and thereby create a strong voice for the Union on the international stage was put forward. Two other reasons for the poorly functioning foreign policy were also highlighted: 1) too little use of qualified majority voting and 2) lack of political will amongst the member states.

One person, two hats!

Some members of the Convention argued that the Foreign Minister should be a normal commissioner who would also have the responsibilities of the High Representative. Other members - especially the United Kingdom - argued that the Foreign Minister should be responsible to the Council - so that, for example, the minister would not be subject to a motion of censure from the European Parliament. The solution found by the Convention is a compromise between the two positions. On the one hand, the Foreign Minister will be a member, and vice-President, of the Commission; on the other hand, he or she will be appointed by the European Council by a super-qualified majority after the agreement of the Commission, and he or she can be removed by the same procedure. The European Council can mandate him or her directly - whereas they would normally mandate the Commission as such. The Foreign Minister will chair the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council. So the Foreign Minister will have two hats - a Commission hat and a Council hat (see art. I-27 in the draft Constitution).

What will happen at the IGC?

The IGC has accepted the concept of a double-hatted representative in foreign affairs. But many issues remain. What should such a person be called? Would he or she be subject to a vote of confidence by the European Parliament? Would the Foreign Minister be allowed to vote on matters other than External Relations matters within the Commission? And many other questions like that (see CIG 02/03). Thus, the exact role of the Foreign Minister is not yet clear.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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