Selection of EU special representative to the Gulf: Risky business for the EU’s High Representative

The EU’s High Representative, Josep Borrell is set to finalize the appointment of a Special Representative to the Gulf region in the coming days. The role of the EU Special Representatives is to promote the EU’s policies and interests in their designated regions. They are key to European efforts to consolidate peace, stability and the rule of law.

The four candidates being considered at the EEAS Are Luigi Di Maio, Dimitris Avramopoulos, Markos Kyprianou, and Jan Kubis – with Di Maio being the frontrunner after intense pressure by specific quarters led to him landing on Borrell’s desk as the preferred nomination of the EEAS services.

Di Maio, is the former Foreign Minister of Italy who was the leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.  Most problematically, Di Maio enacted an embargo of arms sales to Saudia Arabia and the UAE while he was foreign minister, which all but makes him a persona non grata in the region. But his candidacy is not without problems at home as well, with Italian Foreign Minister, Antonio Tajani – who has also served at the top of the EU institutions as President of the European Parliament and two terms as European Commissioner – telling RAI yesterday that Di Maio is not the candidate of the Italian government. Tajani also cleared up that support of Di Maio’s nomination by the technical experts is not binding for Borrell, who the ultimate decision sits with.

The other candidates: Greek Dimitris Avramopoulos, is the former European Commissioner for Migration with a long career in service in Greece including having served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defense. Markos Kyprianou of Cyprus, has been Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Commissioner. Finally Slovakian Jan Kubis, has held posts including that of foreign minister, UN special representative in order in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, and United Nations special envoy to Libya.

The corridors of Brussels can be quite shielded, with decisions happening in the fog of politics – but this position will require a candidate able to deliver essential progress in building relationships and achieving progress at a challenging time for the region. Di Maio, who travelled to France in support of the Yellow Vest movement as Deputy Prime Minister, being photographed with anti-government protesters, caused the French government to comment on his actions, saying at the time that “This new provocation is unacceptable between neighbouring countries and partners at the heart of the European Union.”

How Di Maio has managed to get so far is more or less known by Brussels insiders. If Borrell is actually entertaining putting pen to paper and signing off on his candidacy, it is simply bizarre.



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