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What is in the Inbox of the EU’s Next Foreign Policy Representative, Kaja Kallas?

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Written by: Gaia Durante Mangoni

Supervised by: Riccardo Angelo Grassi


At the European Council Summit in Brussels on the 27th of June, EU leaders gathered to approve the bloc’s new leadership following the outcome of the European elections. Among the appointments, Kaja Kallas was tapped as the EU’s next High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, succeeding the Spanish Josep Borrell. Currently the Prime Minister of Estonia, Kallas recognised the “enormous responsibility” she is entrusted with and reiterated her commitment to strengthening the EU’s defence capabilities (Kallas, 2024).

Before being talked about for this position, her name had floated to lead NATO, as well as for the proposed role of EU Defense Commissioner, which Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised to create if re-elected (McElvoy, 2024). Just like Von der Leyen and future EU Council President Antonio Costa, Kallas will need to get formal approval from EU lawmakers and the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee in the next fall (Nardelli and Tammik, 2024).

Support to Ukraine

As the threat posed by Russia is nowhere felt more acutely than on Europe’s Eastern frontier – particularly in Estonia, home to a significant Russian minority – Kaja Kallas was among the first leaders who repeatedly warned the world about a Russian invasion of Ukraine looming (Nardelli and Tammik, 2024). Many European leaders later regretted not having given her calls sufficient attention and not having provided Kyiv with weapons well before February 2022 (Ibid:). Despite being the Prime Minister of one of the EU’s smallest countries (just over 1.3 million citizens), Kallas has made her country become one of Ukraine’s biggest donors considering its GDP, with total commitments worth around 1.64% of its GDP in 2023 (Trebesch et al., 2023).

Unsurprisingly enough, Kallas’ full and unconditional support to Kyiv made her one of the Kremlin’s most vocal adversaries. And not only that: in a symbolic act of rupture from her country’s past as an occupied state, she ordered the removal of all Soviet-era World War II memorials from public spaces, a move that prompted the Kremlin to issue an arrest warrant accusing her of taking “hostile action toward historic memory and [Russia]” (Sauer, 2024). Yet, the attempts to intimidate Kallas by putting her on Putin’s wanted list haven’t refrained international media from labelling her as an “iron lady”, especially after she said that receiving the arrest warrant was “a great honour” (McElvoy, 2024).

In a jibe at Moscow, the endorsement of Kallas sends a clear message of the EU’s hard stance on Russia. Following this designation, Russian officials swiftly expressed their pessimism about the prospect of any kind of improvement in the relations between Moscow and Brussels (Starcevic, 2024).

Commitment to boosting defence

Today, Estonia is amongst NATO’s top defence contributors as a share of GDP, being second only to Poland and preceding the United States (Lau, 2024). The country has been fulfilling NATO’s 2% defence investment pledge for almost ten years now (since 2015). Under Kallas’ leadership, Estonia’s defence spending continued to increase: from 2.1% of the GDP in 2022 (World Bank, 2022) to 3.43% of the GDP in 2024 (NATO, 2024), with plans to bring this number up to 5% in the coming years (Kiisler, 2024). In an effort to link her country’s commitment to both EU and NATO goals, she has urged Western leaders to also step up their respective countries’ defence spending, approve more packages of sanctions against Russia and increase military support to Ukraine (Starcevic, 2024).

Kallas also takes credit for the idea of issuing billions in eurobonds to boost the EU’s investment in the defence industry (in the form of defence eurobonds). Yet, this plan never saw the light of day given that some European leaders, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, opposed the plan of issuing a common EU debt for defence (Nardelli and Tammik, 2024).


While Kaja Kallas’ strident support for Ukraine largely made her secure the role of EU chief diplomat, it has also been a cause of concern among those who see her as too hardline on the Kremlin. Some EU officials deem her approach as too combative and provocative – especially towards Moscow – rather than diplomatic (Heil, 2024). As discussions around peace prospects in Ukraine are starting to happen, diplomats fear that she will resist engaging in any kind of peace negotiations with Russia in the future. Her staunch anti-Russian profile could then be a problem.

Moreover, as the new voice of European diplomacy in the world, Kallas’ portfolio will include other equally thorny issues, which are making Europe’s neighbourhood extremely volatile. Her stance on the war in Gaza and her posture towards the growing instability and insecurity in the Sahel will be kept under close scrutiny (Mamedov, 2024). In fact, her critics, including Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán, fear that with Kallas, the EU’s foreign policy will be exclusively focused on the East, leaving other regions where the EU should also play a role in the background (Al Jazeera, 2024).


The recent change of leadership in NATO, the EU’s rush to Trump-proof its security and defence policies and the kick-off of Hungary’s Presidency of the EU Council just a few days ago will make Kaja Kallas’ first days in office rather challenging. Often described as “self-confident and charismatic”, many believe her pragmatism approach will allow her to obtain the unanimity required to approve foreign policy decisions within the EU (Kauffmann, 2024). Josep Borrell’s struggle to express a clear and coherent position of the bloc over the war in Gaza has demonstrated how frustrating this role can be if this consensus is not found. Whether Kallas will endure similar internal disagreements or not, her confidence with realpolitik will certainly play in her favour, and she has a long list of cases to demonstrate it.


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