Friday

18th Oct 2019

Feature

Borrell: from controversy to EU's top diplomat

  • Josep Borrell, 72, has already been found guilty of insider share dealing, among various other controversies (Photo: European Parliament)

The nomination of Spain's Josep Borrell as the EU high-representative for foreign affairs and vice-president of the commission was among one of Ursula von der Leyen's most surprising appointments - he is 72-years-old and his career has been marred by more than one contentious event.

Borrell is a former aeronautical engineer with a doctorate in economics and an extensive experience in Brussels.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

He was elected as the president of the EU Parliament from 2004 to 2007, and remained as the president of the committee on development until 2009.

"I have witnessed first-hand the necessity of a stronger Europe, one that defends European values the world over in the face of threats that affect all Europeans," Borrell says in his CV, which he submitted to the parliament as a requirement for the hearing, together with the declaration of financial interests.

But, at first inspection, the parliament's legal affairs committee was not satisfied with the financial declaration of Borrell.

As a result, he was asked to provide further information about his €2.77m assets and his shares in three companies (Iberdrola, Bayer andl BBVA) - which account for 13 percent of his assets.

In a letter to the chair of the committee on legal affairs, British MEP Lucy Nethsingha, Borrell said that he would sell those shares only if it was necessary - and the legal affairs committee concluded that Borrell did not need to sell those shares.

However, according to MEP Diana Riba of the Greens and member of the foreign affairs committee, "it is obvious that, as chief of the European diplomacy, he shouldn't have any ties or interests to any of these companies".

That view was also shared by the leftist GUE/NGL group.

"Over the recent years, Borrell has been involved in serious scandals such as insider trading, and conflicts of interest that makes him incompatible with the responsibilities he has been proposed for," Riba said.

According to MEP Antonio López-Istúriz of the European People's Party, his parliamentary group expects that Borrell will do "a better job as the head of the EU diplomacy than his predecessor Federica Mogherini, whose management was detrimental for EU external policy".

"Unlike Mogherini, we expect him to have a hard stance on communist regimes such as Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua," said López-Istúriz.

Borrell's controversy

Borrell is also well-known for saying controversial things, that may complicate his hearing taking place on 7 October.

For instance, Borrell has voiced his sympathy for Iran on several occasion - defending the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that US president Donald Trump rejected and pledging to try to save it.

"Iran is a key country in the Middle East region. It has had an essential role in the Syria war, helping Assad while the Americans are pulling out," he wrote on Twitter.

Overall, his relationship with US president Donal Trump is not the best.

Borrell described him as the first US president "to voice hostility towards the European project [and] to describe us as foes".

He also defined China as a "systemic rival", and the EU-Turkey agreement for refugees as a solution "to stop an immigrant haemorrhage".

His comments even made Russia summon the Spanish ambassador to Moscow last May after he referred to the country as an "old enemy [that] is once again saying, 'here I am,' and has returned as a threat".

Additionally, Borrell is well known for his anti-separatist position regarding Catalonia - the province where he was born.

In March, he stopped an interview with German TV DW News after the journalist asked him about the independence movement, questioning the Spanish justice system.

However, MEP Manu Pineda (GUE/NGL) expects that "the personal opinions of the [future] high-representative do not influence [the position of the EU] or are adopted by the EU".

"We expect Borrell to act independently of all the pressures that, without any doubt, he will receive," Pineda added.

Previous scandals

Before he is confirmed as the next top EU diplomat, replacing Italy's Mogherini, he is likely to face questions during his hearing about corruption allegations.

In 1999, Borell could have been the next prime minister of Spain.

However, he resigned his candidacy in order not to harm his party, the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) when a fraud scandal concerning two former colleagues of Borrell was revealed.

More recently, as Spanish foreign minister, he was fined €30,000 by the national stock market regulator for a "very serious violation of the securities market law".

In November 2018, the stock market regulator concluded that Borrell sold shares of the company Abengoa with insider information.

Borrell denied the charges, but he did not appeal the verdict.

Instead of resigning, he was chosen to lead the PSOE list for the European elections of 2019 a few months later.

Due to this penalty, he was also forced to resign as president of the European university institute (EUI).

In July, the Spanish leftist party Unidas Podemos denounced eight ministers, including Borrell, before the anti-corruption prosecutor's office for the alleged loss of €2,7bn public funds.

However, this process remains ongoing.

"I truly believe that our responsibility as the parliament is to criticise this appointment that undermines the legitimacy and the reputation of the European institutions," MEP Riba told EUobserver.

Some members of the foreign affairs committee from the liberal Renew group declined to comment on the hearings before they take place.

MEP Dacian Ciolos (Renew), speaking in Strasbourg, said only that Renew Europe have outlined a common approach for the hearings based on four principles: attachment to EU values and treaties, integrity and possible conflicts of interest, competence and political vision for the portfolio and the commitment to follow the mission letters.

"We have an obligation towards EU citizens to put party politics aside and get the best team for Europe," said Ciolos.

French MPs criticise Catalonia situation ahead of verdict

More than 50 French MPs have voiced their concerns about the situation in Catalonia. The acting Spanish minister for foreign affairs - and incoming EU foreign affairs chief - Josep Borrell has lamented "the ignorance about the reality of Spain".

Borrell hard on Russia in EU hearing

The EU should continue to expand in the Western Balkans and maintain sanctions on Russia, its next foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has said.

Column

Habsburg lessons for Europe's foreign policy

The EU is facing similar challenges. Like the Habsburgs, it must work out ways to navigate an increasingly messy geo-political map and stand firm without the advantage of military predominance.

News in Brief

  1. EU: US can expect counter measures after tariff move
  2. Almost 7,500 people forcibly returned to Libya in 2019
  3. Puigdemont released after responding to arrest warrant
  4. Commission: Facebook's Libra needs international approach
  5. Italian PM: denial of accession talks a 'historic mistake'
  6. Catalan president blames clashes on 'infiltrators'
  7. US imposes €6.7bn new tariffs on European products
  8. G7: Libra should not operate until all risks addressed

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  2. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  3. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  4. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  6. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  10. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  12. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  2. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  3. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  9. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  12. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  5. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  6. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  7. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  8. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  10. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  11. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us