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The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy


The Treaty of Lisbon creates the post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, whose role is to conduct the foreign policy of the European Union (EU).

The responsibilities of the High Representative were previously held by two separate persons within the EU:

  • the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP);
  • the Commissioner for External Relations.

The Treaty of Lisbon therefore puts all of the powers related to common foreign and security policy into the hands of one person. The aim is to improve the consistency, effectiveness and visibility of the EU’s external action.

However, the High Representative of the Union does not have the monopoly on the EU’s external representation. The Treaty of Lisbon also gives the President of the European Council responsibility for the external representation of the EU, at a separate level, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative. However, the text does not specify how the work is to be divided between the two, allowing practical experience to determine their respective roles.


The High Representative participates actively in the common foreign and security policy of the Union. First of all, he contributes to the development of that policy by submitting proposals to the Council and the European Council. He then enforces the decisions adopted, as a representative of the Council.

The High Representative of the Union also has a duty of representation. He conducts political dialogue with third countries and is responsible for expressing the EU’s positions in international organisations.

In replacing the High Representative for CFSP and the Commissioner for External Relations, the High Representative has also inherited their respective responsibilities:

  • within the Council, he is responsible for ensuring the consistency and continuity of the work relating to EU foreign policy. To this end, he chairs the Foreign Affairs Council;
  • within the Commission, he holds the responsibilities of the latter in the field of external relations. In addition, he is responsible for ensuring coordination between external policy and the Commission’s other policies and other services.


The High Representative is appointed by the European Council acting by a qualified majority with the agreement of the President of the Commission. The European Council may also end the High Representative’s mandate in accordance with the same procedure.

By virtue of his position, the High Representative is one of the Vice-Presidents of the Commission. In this capacity, he is subject, together with the President and the other members of the Commission, to a vote of approval by the European Parliament. The Treaty on European Union provides that, in the event of a censure motion passed by the Parliament against the Commission, the High Representative must resign from his functions within the Commission. A contrario, he retains the responsibilities which he holds within the Council until the new Commission is formed.


The High Representative of the Union is assisted in the performance of his duties by a European External Action Service. This Service has its legal basis in Article 27(3) of the Treaty on EU. Its functioning and organisation are established by a decision of the Council acting on a proposal from the High Representative. The Council approved the guidelines on the role and functioning of the Service in October 2009.

In accordance with these guidelines, the European External Action Service is under the authority of the High Representative. The latter relies on the Service for the preparation of proposals relating to the external policy of the Union and for the implementation of decisions adopted by the Council in this area.

The European External Action Service may also be placed at the disposal of the President of the European Council, the President of the Commission and the other Commissioners for issues connected with EU external policy.



Treaty on European Union

18 and 27

Appointment and powers of the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Last updated: 30.12.2009
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