the euro zone


"Spain is back." So said Spain's acting prime minister Pedro Sánchez this week, regarding the prospect of Josep Borrell becoming the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Sánchez had been hoping that the caretaking foreign minister would be appointed chief of the EU Commission, a position which Ursula von der Leyen, defence minister in Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrat Party, looks set to win. That's bad news for Europe's social democrats, in whose name Sánchez has been pushing for a Socialist to take control of the Commission, one of the bloc's most powerful bodies.

Nevertheless, Borrell's ascension to High Representative would mark a return to frontline EU politics for Spain, whose only voice in top institutions at the moment is that of Luis de Guindos, former economy minister and vice president of the European Central Bank. Sánchez hopes, with good reason, that Borrell's abilities and experience will substantially increase Spain's influence on European foreign policy.

In his new position, which he'll take up in November if approved by a vote in the European Parliament, Borrell will be responsible for coordinating and representing the EU's foreign and security policies, managing a 4,000-strong team and overseeing an annual budget of €40 billion.

The role's first occupant, between 1999 and 2009, was also Spanish. Javier Solana - a physicist and Socialist who served as secretary general of NATO from 1995 to 1999 - achieved a lot during his time in the job: in the early 2000s, he was a key figure in the creation of the "Road Map for Peace", a plan among the EU, the UN, the US and Russia, aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and at the end of 2004, he worked with the UK, France and Germany to negotiate a nuclear "truce" with Iran. Borrell's tasks as High Representative will be similarly complex, with Brexit and the civil war in Syria among the most demanding situations to deal with. He'll also oversee humanitarian aid and have considerable influence on EU immigration policy.

Both Spanish and international media outlets have this week described the Spaniard's new role as the least powerful of the five top EU jobs that have been up for grabs, but this is not necessarily true. The importance of such roles dwindles or increases according to the abilities of those who occupy them; and 72-year-old Borrell, who served as president of the European Parliament between 2004 and 2007, is a heavyweight, unafraid of speaking his mind (a habit which has also involved him in some unfortunate and embarrassing incidents).

He's therefore likely to bring more attention to a job that has been conducted away from the media spotlight, most recently by the understated Italian Socialist Federica Mogherini. Cantankerous and plain-speaking Borrell is likely to change that, hopefully for the good.