Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 October 2019

Nomination of Josep Borrell for EU High Representative sparks outcry

A supporter of the Iranian regime, Mr Borrell will handle the EU's negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal

Josep Borrell was appointed head of the European diplomacy. AFP
Josep Borrell was appointed head of the European diplomacy. AFP

Outspoken Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell has been nominated for the post of EU High Representative, sparking concern among some in EU member states.

A veteran of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), Mr Borrell has courted controversy since his return to top tier national politics following the 2018 general election.

Mr Borrell is a known supporter of Iran and has made several comments during his time as foreign minister, which were construed as being sympathetic to the regime.

Earlier this year, he marked the 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution by celebrating some of the achievements made since Ayatollah Khomeini swept to power in 1979 in a Twitter thread.

Mr Borrell noted that literacy rates in the country had improved in 40 years and said Tehran had played an “essential role” in the war in Syria, while the US withdrew from the conflict.

Mr Borrell has spoken out against US sanctions on Iran, saying he rejected "any kind of position that resembles an ultimatum from anyone and also from the United States”.

This is particularly troubling as his role as the new foreign policy chief will involve taking a lead on the bloc’s negotiations with Tehran over the nuclear deal.

In a February interview with Politico, Mr Borrell said: “It would be very bad for us if [Iran] goes on to develop a nuclear weapon … Iran wants to wipe out Israel; nothing new about that. You have to live with it.”

Jason Brodsky from pressure group United Against Nuclear Iran, described Mr Borrell’s appointment as “concerning”.

At a time of heightened tensions between the Washington and Tehran, the EU can sometimes play the role of mediator. However, Mr Borrell’s diplomatic relations with the US have been strained by his public criticisms of President Donald Trump.

Most recently, the 72-year-old accused the US President of behaving like “a cowboy” for threatening military intervention in Venezuela.

Catalan but anti-independence

Born in a small village in Catalonia, Mr Borrell worked as an engineer in Madrid before entering politics in 1979.

Before leaving frontline national politics to become president of the European Parliament, he served as public works minister, deputy finance minister and party leader.

He has been plagued by scandal throughout his career. In the late 1990s he stepped down as leader of PSOE over a financial scandal involving two of his former co-workers when he was deputy finance minister.

His most recent public financial scandal was in 2015 when he stepped down from the board of renewable energy group Abengoa shortly before the business announced it was about to go bankrupt.

Last year, he was fined 30,000 euros for insider trading after selling shares in the group.

Despite being from the region, Mr Borrell is staunchly against the Catalan independence movement.

He stormed out of an interview in March with German television station DW when asked about the treatment of Catalan separatist leaders who were jailed after the failed independence declaration in 2017.

High-profile experts and commentators have expressed concern about the nomination.

Alanna O’Malley, Professor of United Nations Studies and former colleague of Mr Borrell at the European University Institute called the 72-year-old “a fine example of ineffectual, corrupt and empty leadership”.

While others have pointed to some of the Spaniard’s more controversial comments as reason for his unsuitability to be the EU's top diplomat.

Former UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights Ben Emmerson pointed to remark Mr Borrell made at a speech in Madrid in 2018, when he said all the US had to do to gain independence was “kill four Indians”.

“Josep Borrell denies the mass slaughter of native Americans. In some European States, denial of the holocaust or other genocides is a crime. But the EU wants to appoint this man to head up its foreign policy,” Mr Emmerson wrote.

Updated: July 3, 2019 06:47 PM

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