Dutch foreign minister: ‘I won’t succeed Ashton’

Frans Timmermans sent a waning letter [European Commission]

Despite being one of the presumed contenders, the Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans on Tuesday (20 May) denounced rumours that he was in the race to succeed Catherine Ashton as EU foreign policy chief.

In an interview with the news website Nu.nl, the Dutch foreign minister was asked how he would perform as next EU ‘High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy’.

“I don’t know and I will never know, as I will never play that role,” Timmermans answered. The full interview will be published today (21 May).

Timmermans, who has been foreign affairs minister since 2012, has been name-dropped as a potential successor to Catherine Ashton, the outgoing incumbent whose full job title is “High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy”.

Ashton, who is de facto the EU’s foreign minister, presides over the Council meetings of the EU’s 28 foreign affairs ministers and is also Vice-President of the European Commission.

The next person to take on the job therefore needs to be nominated as commissioner by his or her national government.

In the case of the Netherlands, the current president of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijselbloem, appears well positioned to get the seat.

Dijselbloem is a member of the Dutch socialist party PvdA and as the current Dutch Commissioner Neelie Kroes is a member of the liberal VVD party, the PvdA is likely to claim the position this time around.

Tough legacy

The EU’s foreign affairs portfolio is part of a wider set of top positions that will be attributed in the weeks following the European elections on 22-25 May.

Amongst the other potential candidates, the name of Radoslaw Sikorski is most often mentioned. The Polish foreign minister has an excellent profile, having plenty of experience in foreign affairs and defence policy while hailing from a ‘new’ East European member state.

Ashton, a British member of the Labour party who took on the High Representative role in 2010, has endured plenty of criticism throughout her mandate.

“She has let herself be pushed aside by [EU Commission president] José Manuel Barroso,” Steven Blockmans, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), told EURACTIV at an earlier event evaluating the state of the EU’s foreign service, EEAS.

The person who will take on the mandate in the next EU Commission (2014-2019) will be part of a larger deal on top jobs, which includes the presidency of the European Council, the Eurogroup, important Commission portfolios and other positions.

>> Read more in our LinksDossier: The EU top jobs: Who’s next?

After the EU elections (22-25 May), EU leaders will discuss a series of lead positions on the European level. The incumbent Commission steps down and a new Commission is formed. The next president of the European Council is also selected over the summer.

Traditionally, EU top jobs are the result of a hard bargaining process between the member states. The positions are negotiated on the basis of nationality and political allegiance and are due to reflect a fair representation of European member states and of the political power balance in Europe.

>> Read more in our LinksDossier: The EU top jobs: Who's next?

  • Summer 2014: New president nominates his Commissioners team, scrutinised in individual hearings before Parliament in September.
  • Oct. 2014: The new Commission is hoped to be confirmed by the European Parliament.
  • 1 Nov. 2014: Target date for new Commission to take office.

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