Answers from Josep Borrell High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to the EP’s written questions

Today’s geopolitical conflicts do not take place mostly in trenches in the battlefield, but mainly in the cyberspace and other fields ranging from trade, economic and monetary policy to access for raw materials. The weapons used are no longer bayonets but rather cyber and hybrid attacks, sanctions, commercial tariffs, currency devaluations and forced technology transfers. This is why it has become vital to use all the instruments in the EU’s toolbox, in particular the leverage provided by some of our internal policies, if we want to become a player in world politics and not just a payer.

To that end, I intend to fully play my role as Commission Vice-President in charge of coordinating the external action of the European Union, in line with Article 18(4) TEU. I will support the President in coordinating the external dimension of all Commissioners' work and ensure we link better the internal and external aspects of our policies. I also intend to work together with my relevant colleagues in the College of Commissioners to ensure that our external financial instruments are used strategically, contribute to our wider political aims and enhance Europe’s leadership and influence in the world.

At times when external and internal policies are increasingly intertwined, it is important to promote the interests and security of our citizens when we shape and conduct foreign policy, but also to look outside the EU when we define domestic policy. Against this backdrop, the cooperation with the European Parliament, representing directly European citizens, with its political and budgetary support as well as its role as a co-legislator, will be fundamental to have a coherent and effective EU foreign policy.

My fundamental task will be to ensure the work of the Commission and the EU's external action respond to geopolitical challenges that confront the EU. Building on the strength of our soft power, the EU needs to use all available instruments in a more coherent and strategic manner if it wants to be influential in a world increasingly characterised by great power competition. To that end, I intend to play fully my role as Commission Vice-President and coordinate the European Union’s external action to maximise our international leverage to protect our interests and promote our values.

For this to succeed, it will be crucial for the Commission services and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to work even closer together, to ensure full complementarity of our internal and external action and to fully exploit the potential of the Commissioners Group for a Stronger Europe in the World.

Moreover, I will ensure that all of our work linked to defence and our efforts towards a genuine European Defence Union is coherent and consistent, working closely in particular with the Executive Vice-President for a Europe fit for the Digital Age as well as the Commissioner for Internal Market.

Secondly, I see myself as an honest broker at the Foreign Affairs Council. Coordinating the Commission's external action will not be enough to be an effective foreign policy actor. We also need to ensure the coherence of our actions. The EU has proved that it can be an influential player when it acts united. My aim is to go beyond finding the minimum common denominator when Member States are divided. I intend to play a proactive consensus building role between Member States, promoting what I believe is in the EU’s interest in the short, medium and long term. In this regard, I will work with all my colleagues when the College puts forward proposals on the EU’s External Action across all policy-areas - external and internal, and make use of my right of initiative as High Representative to put forward proposals in the area of Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).

Geopolitical Commission

The coordination, consistency and effectiveness of EU external action will be a special focus of the new "Geopolitical Commission". This will notably translate into weekly updates on foreign policy (which I will provide) and systematic discussions on the Union's external action in the College, as well as in regular meetings of the Commissioners' Group for "A Stronger Europe in the World", which I will chair. I believe these will help the EU to make better use of our tools and instruments in order to promote our values and interests and enhance the impact of our external action in traditional areas such as trade, development, humanitarian affairs or neighbourhood and enlargement. This will also include ensuring we better link up with external aspects of our internal policies, ranging from industrial policy (in particular, but no only, in its defence industry aspects) to digital and Home affairs. I intend to engage actively within the College to ensure that we work jointly in identifying interests and goals, as well as the means and strategies to promote and pursue them in a holistic perspective. This is the key mandate given to me by President-elect von der Leyen. I also understand that this is what the Council expects from me.

New Neighbourhood

Consistency and effectiveness in the programming responds to this same logic and the proposed new Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument will help us advance in this direction. This new streamlined instrument will be more coherent, responsive, and flexible. Fundamentally, it could be a game-changer to instil a more strategic approach to the EU's funding, and how it can be better leveraged in support of our policies, interests and values.

Preservation of a strong support for the neighbourhood, including in case the current European Neighbourhood Instrument should be replaced by a single instrument for the external action of the EU (NDICI).

External Financing Instruments

Governance, including a proposal to establish a horizontal steering group potentially led by the VP/HR in order to ensure the overall political coordination of all external financing instruments. I firmly believe that consulting the EP on the main aspects and basic choices of the EU external action, in full respect of Article 36 TEU, is of great importance. It aims at ensuring accountability, political feedback and guidance, democratic legitimacy, visibility and better communication to the citizens. Reflecting this spirit, the inclusion of the European Development Fund in the budget of the EU was not only proposed to improve the coherence of our external action – it would also significantly increase the European Parliament's legislative, budgetary and scrutiny powers, a legitimate and longstanding request of your institution. In the upcoming trilogues on the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI), we will clearly have to further define the role of, inter alia, the European Parliament and the Council in the governance of the financing instruments, which should happen in full respect of the institutional prerogatives of each EU institution and should be organised in an effective way. Discussions so far have shown that all institutions agree on the main features a new instrument should deliver: more efficiency, consistency, coherence, and an ability to react to unforeseen circumstances. To guarantee this and at the same time ensure the appropriate involvement of the European Parliament, I will ensure, in cooperation with the Commissioners for International Partnerships and for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, that Commission services and EEAS continue to associate the co-legislators closely with the preparation of EU cooperation programmes. I agree with the EP on the need for horizontal steer and coordination of EU external financing. In fact, the Commissioners' Group for "A Stronger Europe in the World" that I will chair can be one of the instruments to ensure such coordination.

Indeed, as mandated in my Mission letter, I will have the responsibility to work together with all my relevant colleagues in the College to ensure that our external financing instruments are used strategically and contribute to enhancing Europe leadership and influence in the world. I will do so in conjunction with the wider work on ensuring the coordination and coherence of the Union´s external action. For instance, international trade agreements are a powerful instrument in our relations with external partners, as they promote EU standards and priorities. Our development and human rights policies also allow us to extend our influence globally. By the same token, I will work closely with all relevant Commissioners, such as the Commissioner for International Partnerships, the Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, the Commissioner for Crisis Management, the Commissioner for Trade and the Commissioner for Internal Market, among others. Still in the spirit of internal-external coherence, I will also strive to engage actively in other Commissioner's Groups chaired by my fellow Vice-Presidents, e.g. on "A European Green Deal" or "A Europe Fit for the Digital Age". As to the neighbourhood, the need to maintain a privileged relationship with all neighbouring countries in terms of security, resilience, prosperity and stability, is a clear priority. The 2015 Review of our cooperation framework with neighbourhood partners has been instrumental in addressing EU's and partners' joint interests and common challenges. Therefore, I will continue to attach priority to the principles of joint ownership and differentiation to ensure that this framework remains relevant to each of our partners, at the same time securing EU’s interests. For the period 2021-27, in its proposed Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument, the Commission foresees a total earmarked allocation of 22 billion euros for the Neighbourhood East and South countries, which represents an increase of 24% compared to the current MFF and is a guaranteed floor that could only be increased. There could be no stronger safeguard and endorsement of our Neighbourhood policy, which has never benefited from so many resources, and which moreover could gain access to additional resources from the proposed "emerging challenges and priorities cushion". Core specificities of the special partnership with our Neighbours would also be preserved in that context, such as the strong focus on performance, while removing current artificial barriers among existing EU external financing instruments.

Coordination of EU’s external action

I intend to play fully my role as Commission Vice-President and coordinate the European Union's external action to maximise our international leverage, protect our interests and promote our values. My work as Vice-President of the Commission will inform the exercise of my responsibilities as High Representative and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Council, and vice-versa, for example by making full use of the possibility to present joint communications with the Commission. I will of course ensure that the work done under these various responsibilities is fully consistent. I will be fully involved in the work of the College, which will systematically discuss and decide on external action matters. To support this, all services and Cabinets will prepare the external aspects of College meetings on a weekly basis, mirroring the process already in place for interinstitutional relations, through a new collegial preparatory body, the Group for External Coordination (“EXCO”), which will be co-chaired by my Deputy Head of Cabinet and the President’s Diplomatic Adviser. I will also make the most out of the Commissioners' Group for "A Stronger Europe in the World" as a tool to that end.

We need to have more strategic discussions amongst all the members of the Commission with external responsibilities, not only those responsible for external EU policies but also for internal policies with a strong external dimension, such as migration, digital, energy or climate. Moreover, I will steer our work linked to defence and ensure our efforts towards a genuine European Defence Union are coherent and consistent, working closely in particular with the Executive Vice-President for a Europe fit for the Digital Age as well as the Commissioner for Internal Market. Close cooperation at services level between the Commission services and the EEAS will be absolutely key for an efficient formulation and execution of the EU's external action. Together with the President-elect, I will work to ensure that the Commission services and the EEAS work seamlessly together towards the fulfilment of the priorities of the new Commission and in line with decisions of the Council and guidance from the European Council. I will also have the privilege of leading the network of EU Delegations across the world, where EEAS and Commission officials work together under a single EU Ambassador.

The EU has identified the geo-economic importance of connectivity, among other policy areas, to advance EU interests, contribute to growth and boost employment at home. It is important for our external action across the board reinforcing the importance of sustainability and internationally agreed norms, including on climate, social, fiscal and economic sustainability. It also has security-related implications. In order to deliver this strategy, the EU needs strong coordination of the policies, actors and actions as part of the overall coordination of its external action. As addressing connectivity (digital, transport, energy and human dimensions) requires scale, a whole of EU approach is needed - including EU institutions, Member States and EU private sector. We need to decide together what the EU’s key strategic interests are, focus on them, mobilise and create the necessary environment for attracting private investment and use a new generation of instruments that can deliver more efficiently and rapidly in support of EU economic operators abroad. The ongoing MFF negotiations will be a key to determine the European ambition when it comes to our foreign policy and will guide the further programming exercise.

Given the complex challenges today, EU foreign policy, and CFSP in particular, must be effective to advance the EU's strategic interests and its values. To be a global leader, the Union needs to be able to take decisions in a faster and more efficient way overcoming constraints in our decision-making that may hamper our foreign policy. EU external action can be undermined when there is a lack of unity within the EU and therefore Member States should abide by the principle of sincere cooperation enshrined in the Treaty. We need to be flexible and to act quickly and decisively.

Unanimity rule vs qualified majority voting

There is a need to look beyond the constraints imposed on EU foreign policy by the unanimity rule. When putting forward proposals, I will seek to use the clauses in the Treaties that allow certain decisions on common foreign and security policy to be adopted by qualified majority voting. In this context, I intend to engage in an open discussion with the Council to ensure that we build the necessary confidence to explore making use of these clauses, including in the areas mentioned by the European Parliament. “Constructive abstention” is another pragmatic possibility offered by the Treaty to overcome constraints of unanimity voting. In this context, I also want to mention the ongoing work in Council on reviewing modalities and working methods to ensure the effectiveness of CFSP and EU foreign policy more broadly. From increased information sharing, to effective communication and implementation of EU common positions, we can strengthen the decision-making process in the Council, seeking above all to ensure the unity of the EU and therefore enhance its credibility and its influence. Using and applying the possibilities provided for by the Treaty of Lisbon, together with improving the ways we implement foreign policy, will help ensuring Member States' ownership and unity, and the consistency and effectiveness of the EU's external action.

EEAS and Gender Parity

The EEAS has undergone a substantive review process, as stipulated by the Council Decision of 2010, in 2013; and once again, on a smaller scale, in 2015. These reviews have guided a process of adjustment of structures, working methods and organisation, with the goal of making the EEAS better equipped, more efficient and able to fulfil the role given to it by the Treaty. This process is in fact a continuous one, and I see it as my responsibility to ensure that the EEAS is able to play its role in a fast-changing foreign policy context. While the formal review process has been concluded, we will continue to strive to improve the structures and working methods. On the specific challenge of achieving gender parity, I share the views of the President-elect and will seek to ensure equal opportunities and diversity in EEAS. This is not only a question of credibility and equality of opportunity – but also better working methods: all research shows that organisations that foster diversity make better decisions and work more sustainably and productively. It is in everyone's interest that our organisation has a variety of staff taking account of all diversities. In the EEAS, the overall numerical gender balance is close to equal but the qualitative gender composition remains imbalanced. The recommendations of an EEAS task force on equal opportunities are being implemented to accelerate progress towards sustainable gender balance at all levels and in all functions and job categories in the EEAS, including through the informal WEEAS-network which provides specific mentoring for women in management. We will also continue to encourage the participation of more women candidate from Member States diplomatic services.


Disinformation – and the manipulation of our information spaces – is a threat to our democracies and to a free and informed global public debate. Hard evidence shows that foreign state actors – often in close cooperation with domestic actors - are increasingly deploying disinformation strategies to influence societal debates, create divisions and interfere in democratic decision-making, including in elections. Disinformation campaigns are often part of hybrid challenges, involving cyber-attacks, targeting not only EU Member States but also our partners in the neighbourhood. Countering disinformation and making our societies more resilient to foreign interference and manipulation is a common priority for EU institutions and Member States. This can be achieved only in a whole-of-society approach: in a coordinated effort of governments, civil society, researchers and fact-checkers, private sector (including online platforms) and media. At the same time, we need to fully safeguard the principle of freedom of expression. We need to find the right balance. This is exactly the spirit of the comprehensive Action Plan against Disinformation adopted in 2018 and that provides guidance for our work in this area. There are a number of priority actions in this regard: We need to get better at detecting, analysing and exposing disinformation, no matter its origin and tactics employed. We need to enhance pooling and sharing of analyses and best practices via the Rapid Alert System, which connects all Member States and EU institutions within a single network managed by the EEAS. We should coordinate better our communications in response to disinformation incidents. We need to develop clear rules for digital platforms and industry in this field. This is what the Code of Practice already started implementing and where we need to reflect further. In any case, we need better transparency rules and better cooperation when it comes to access to data and the use of algorithms. All this is currently being evaluated. We also need to get better at raising awareness and empowering our citizens. This should be done by supporting quality journalism and independent media, building media literacy programmes, cross-border cooperation between media professionals, and media self-regulatory bodies. The cyber diplomacy toolbox enables the EU and its Member States to leverage the full continuum of policies and instruments, including restrictive measures, to keep cyberspace open, stable and secure. I intend to work very closely on these issues with the European Parliament and the Commission, in particular the Executive Vice-President for a Europe fit for the Digital Age, the Vice-President for Values and Transparency and the Commissioner for Internal Market. Last, but not least, our future efforts will also have to build on close cooperation with international partners, in particular with the Group of Seven (G7) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). This issue has been a topic of report and recommendation by the European Parliament, both asking for concrete steps in several different spheres, including turning the Stratcom Task Force into a fully-fledged unit within the EEAS. The EEAS has been at the forefront of efforts to tackle disinformation with its activities to expose disinformation campaigns in the EU's Eastern Neighbourhood as mandated by the European Council in 2015. Since the adoption of the Action Plan against Disinformation, the EEAS has significantly stepped up its role and activities and expanded the scope of this work. With the support of the European Parliament, we were able to strengthen the three existing Task Forces (East Stratcom Task Force; Western Balkans Task Force; Task Force South) both in terms of staffing and available budget. We have also created a team dealing with related issues, including data analysis capacity, staff working on outreach and awareness raising and on the relations with civil society and industry. We have now a professional team with considerable expertise that is working very well in the current context. Obviously, I am ready to look at all organisational issues that may arise linked to the changes of its work. I attach a lot of importance to our work on countering disinformation.

Security and Defense

In the area of security and defence, the aim is to enable the EU and its Member States to take more responsibility for their own security, with partners wherever possible and alone when necessary, in the pursuit of EU values and interests. This drives the EU's Level of Ambition in security and defence, as derived by the Council from the Global Strategy for the EU's Foreign and Security Policy in November 2016, which sets out three strategic priorities to guide our work: responding more effectively to external conflicts and crises, building the capacities of partners and better protecting the Union and its citizens. The different actions that have been launched over the last few years in this framework need to be fully implemented in a coherent and delivery-oriented manner. I will attach particular importance to ensuring that the work carried out within the EEAS and the European Defence Agency is conducted in close coordination and synergy with the Commission services, in particular with the future Directorate General for Defence Industry and Space. Let me underline that the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), the European Defence Fund (EDF) and the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) will enhance the Union´s ability to tackle security threats more effectively. It will allow a deepened cooperation from investment and capability development to the joint operational use of those capabilities, in complementarity with NATO, thereby reinforcing the transatlantic alliance and contributing to burden-sharing, as well as strengthening the competitiveness of the EU's defence industrial and technological base. From the outset, this encompasses a very strong partnership dimension as the EU remains fully committed to working closely with its partners, and in particular with NATO, with which cooperation is developing at an unprecedented pace, based on the Joint Declarations. The shared objective of both organisations is to ensure the security of our citizens and to strengthen the Trans-Atlantic bond. Article 5 of North Atlantic Treaty is the cornerstone for collective defence for NATO Allies as explicitly recognised in the EU Treaty. The two organisations play complementary roles in providing security in Europe, the EU’s broad toolbox complements NATO’s core tasks. A stronger EU defence dimension makes NATO stronger. I will remain committed to further strengthen EU-NATO cooperation. In addition, I will make sure that a special effort is made to deliver on crosscutting initiatives to strengthen and improve the EU's integrated approach on external conflicts and crises, the civilian and military dimensions of the Common Security and Defence Policy, enhancing military mobility across the EU, resilience and countering hybrid threats, cyber and maritime security, situational awareness, etc. I also intend to focus on the adoption of the European Peace Facility proposal, which aims at providing the EU with an off-budget fund to finance all Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) operational actions having military or defence implications. This proposal really provides for a step-change in EU efforts on operational military/defence activities and it counts with the Commission support in line with Article 30.1 TEU. There is scope to further strengthen a coherent strategic approach to connect the different actions, including by identifying synergies and linkages between them, while further operationalising the EU's Level of Ambition to which they aim to contribute. I am convinced that this would also help to foster a common strategic culture by promoting a shared understanding of common security challenges and the EU's response to them, including through our CSDP missions and operations as part of a stronger integrated approach to external conflicts and crises. Working closely with the Member States, this work will help charter our way towards a European Defence Union, as called for by the Parliament and set out in the political guidelines by the President-elect and will allow the EU to be more assertive on the international stage as called for by the European Council in the Strategic Agenda 2019-2024.

Promoting and Protecting Human Rights

It is today more important than ever for the European Union to play a central role in promoting and protecting human rights in the world. Human rights are not a subset of our external policies; they are an integral part of all our policies, whether it is migration, security or trade, among others. For example, all our agreements with third countries contain provisions on the respect for human rights as an essential element for the bilateral relationship. Violations of such clauses can lead to the suspension of the agreements with the country concerned. Moreover, our bilateral trade agreements include provisions on respect of economic and social rights. Countries that benefit from EU trade preferences have to comply with human rights and labour rights conventions. Our CSDP missions are required to uphold the highest standard on human rights and receive a dedicated human rights training before deployment. The EU is committed to a human rights based migration policy where the highest standards of international human rights law are upheld and where human dignity of migrants is ensured. This is why I will build on our current work with countries of origin, transit and destination, international and regional organisations and civil society to improve protection of migrants and their perspectives for a better future. In our dialogues with partners across the world, I will raise the need to defend the best interest of children, foster gender-sensitive approaches to migration, to fight discrimination and xenophobia against migrants and ensure their access to basic services. The EU has been vocal on country situations where human rights are being violated and abuses persist, and I will not shy away from the responsibility I have towards those who are suffering, those who ask to be protected and to be treated with dignity. The universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the respect of human dignity, are among the key funding principles of the European Union. We have a duty to uphold and promote these rights and fundamental freedoms both towards our citizens and towards the citizens of the world to enhance our efforts. If confirmed as Vice-President of the Commission, I would have a mandate to ensure that the EU external action is strategic and coherent. I would also have a mandate to protect and promote human rights, which I will do bilaterally and in multilateral fora with the support of the EU Special Representative for Human Rights. I will ensure that human rights are regularly discussed in the Commissioners' Group for "A Stronger Europe in the Word" as a cross cutting issue and remain an integral component of our overall approach to partner countries. In doing this, I will ensure a better link between our internal and external aspects of our policies. I also intend to strengthen the special partnership with the European Parliament on human rights. In implementing the Action plan on Human Rights and democracy and the EU Human Rights Guidelines, I will also ask my service to continue to effectively integrate human rights in all policies towards partner countries, as well as in bilateral dialogues on political, economic or security matter


With the nomination of Josep Borrell to serve as high representative of the union for foreign affairs and security policy, the EU has an opportunity to relaunch its foreign policy. Borrell’s task will be to unite EU institutions and national foreign ministries behind a common EU-level foreign policy.

Beyond that, Borrell will face three challenges. T

The first is to secure Europe’s strategic sovereignty. Borrell will need to start developing strategies for managing the bloc’s most vexing diplomatic and security issues, from Russia and China to the potential powder kegs in Syria, Africa, and the Balkans. Borrell must chart a new course forward, neither ignoring dissenting views from member states nor settling for the lowest common denominator of what all members say they can accept.

 The EU doesn’t necessarily need new foreign policies, but it does need new mechanisms for implementing its agenda, as well as competent leadership that can inspire confidence within all the member states. In reasserting the EU’s sovereignty, the new high representative will have to deal with everything from US secondary sanctions and the weaponisation of the dollar to growing cyber- and hybrid-warfare threats from around the world.

Borrell’s second main challenge will be to re-operationalise European defence. While the EU has made progress in launching defence-related industrial projects, its operational capacity has shrunk.

Borrell’s third challenge will be to restore trust between member-state foreign ministries and the European External Action Service. He cannot possibly tackle all the EU’s foreign-policy issues on his own; he will need a strong team and broad-based support within the EU. In appointing his deputies, he should choose members of the Commission who already have a mandate covering the key regional issues of the Sahel, the Balkans, and the Eastern Partnership.

Better yet, Borrell should assign specific policy issues to individual foreign ministers, who would then have to report back to the member states and the EU Political and Security Committee.

Finally, Borrell should consider appointing core groups of member states to convene workshops on divisive issues, with the goal of identifying common positions and raising the lowest common denominator. At a minimum, this could give each member state some “skin in the game”, possibly discouraging them from abusing EU processes or pursuing unilateral action.

By adopting the broad agenda outlined above, Borrell can help the EU confront the challenges of the coming years as a united bloc. His top goal should be to secure Europe’s strategic sovereignty. The EU is still the world’s largest market, comprises some of the largest national aid budgets, accounts for the second-highest level of defence spending, and can deploy the largest diplomatic corps. If it can put these assets in the service of a larger strategic agenda, it can become a player in the twenty-first century rather than the plaything of other great powers.



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