In Search of a Role for the High Representative: The Legacy of Catherine Ashton

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Niklas Helwig, Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Helsinki, Finland
      • Carolin Rüger, Department of Political Science and Sociology, University of Würzburg, Germany


    Since Catherine Ashton took up office as High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR), she has been faced with high expectations – and much disappointment. The circumstances for shaping EU external action have not been particularly favourable. With the sovereign debt and economic crises shaking the EU, the major players were focussed more on dealing with internal crisis management than with forging a global Europe. Filling the post-Lisbon foreign policy setup with life would have been a challenge in any case, but against the backdrop of the unprecedented crisis and harsh economic conditions this task became even more demanding. By assessing the tenure of the “High Representative 2.0” from 2009 to 2014 this paper provides answers to three key questions: What is the HR’s role in EU foreign policy? How did the first incumbent of the remodelled position live up to the expectations? And which legacy did Catherine Ashton leave for her successor? The analysis examines the main themes of Ashton’s role performance in her five years in office(including among others the set-up of the European External Action Service, crisis management, Iran and Ukraine)and matches them against four role expectations: co-leader, broker, manager and diplomat. It is argued that the HR acted as a diplomat and manager of EU external action, while her role performance in co-leadership and brokering were less successful. Role expectations and performance entered a fragile equilibrium at the end of Ashton’s tenure. The paper also discusses the contested appointment of Ashton’s successor and provides a tentative assessment on how the future role of the next HR might develop.