Stanley's blog

I have in previous blog posts, strongly disagreed with criticism of Baroness Ashton. The nomination of Joao Vale de Almeida to succeed John Bruton as EU ambassador in Washington is, however, worrying.

I believed that Hermann Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton were the right appointments but not necessarily for the right reason. She was right to choose her office to be in the Commission and not the Council, there being no neutral ground. My only worry was the influence of President Barroso and his apparent concern to protect and indeed advance his present position of authority.

The fear is that the appointment of a Portuguese official, formerly Barroso’s chef de cabinet smacks of patronage and inappropriate influence. With all due respect to Joao Vale de Almeida, there are better qualified individuals, inside and outside the Commission, for this very important job.

It sends a clear message as to the President’s intent to play an influential role in foreign affairs. Vale de Almeida’s close ties with Barroso suggest that he will be as much a ‘servant’ of Barroso than of Ashton. As the EEAS is not yet in operation, the President felt able to make the appointment without involving the Member States – a wrong approach confirming that the EU will be faced with debilitating turf wars, institutional rivalries and personal power plays.

What precedent does it set? Almeida is leading the Commission in the expert group advising Ashton on the formation of the External Service (EEAS). The quality of the new service is vitally important for the development of the High Representative’s role and the forging of a CFSP. This appointment is a continuation of the Commission’s unfortunate appointment policy. It could well discourage well qualified national civil servants from applying to join the EEAS, which must be a meritocracy.

It is essential that Ashton resists too much influence from Barrroso, that the latter concentrates on the many none-CFSP priorities and that Van Rompuy, Barroso and Ashton work together harmoniously and with their egos under compete control

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  1. I agree that this is an unsightly dispute, likely to lead to further turf wars. The earlier dispute between Commissioner Patton and Council of Ministers Secretary General Solana is not resolved by the Lisbon Treaty fudge. The dispute, dating from de Gaulle’s nationalistic attempt to distort and grab the powers of the Council, cannot be resolved by the illogicalities of shared functions in two supposedly independent institutions. It is now continuing at a different more expensive and embarrassing level for all the world to see.

    At the core is the unresolved question of whether the EU should be a supranational Community system as envisaged by Monnet and Schuman or an intergovernmental system run by the ministers in a secretive Council — still with little democratic oversight (warmed over Gaullism that turns all public posts into party patronage and political nepotism). Real authority (the first Commission was called the High Authority) comes from honesty, impartiality and inclusion of the interests of all Europeans.

    It is also a question of glitz over substance. Glitz comes from giving inaccurate or exaggerated titles like Ambassador to posts where the office has different functions from national diplomacy. Substance still comes from the supranational Community base (the two remaining communities, the Economic Community and Euratom and the heritage of the first). Only a little is added by other areas such as CFSP if the 27 cannot provide a coherent foundation of agreement based on public trust, real democracy, open institutions and the European rule of law. Trust is the principal victim.

    The question is really: Do Europeans want a Commission retaining its legal, delegated powers that encourage it to be impartial and independent and to speak for all, including minorities? Or should the Commission become the lap-dog of ministers, sometimes acting like party politicians rather than Statesmen/ women? If Europeans prefer an impartial, independent Commission to power politics, then the Commission should be encouraged to nominate a competent candidate and the Council should reform itself, then support, encourage and protect the delegated powers they provided in treaties. All institutions must encourage more democratic, open assessment and the European rule of law.

  2. I very much share your sentiments. The EEAS may not be in operation yet but Almeida’s appointment may indeed have negative repercussions for future recruitment into the Service, especially from the national diplomatic services. We have already seen a frosty reaction to the appointment from Carl Bildt and demands for ‘clarification’ from Pierre Lellouche directed at Catherine Ashton.

    You also point out the possible conflict of interest when you observe that Almeida is one of the small preparatory group on the EEAS. Indeed, and the timing is all the more unfortunate when a draft proposal on adapting the rules for EU staff, setting out the terms of recruitment into the Service, is circulating within the Commission.

    I cannot help but wonder how all of this looks to Washington. Still, Almeida will be able to look forward to less cramped and more secure accommodation in the delegation’s new premises.

  3. Thanks David for taking the trouble to comment at length
    A major issue is indeed, how much supranationality and how much intergovernmentalism do we want. It is not ‘either, or’.

    The key underlying principles must in any case be transparency, integrity, inclusiveness (euality) and solidarity.

    I’m in favour of ‘opening up’ the Council and increasing the democracy of
    Pariament.

    The role of the Commission should not change nor should it be ‘elected’ but greater transparency in the nomination of Commissioners is desirable

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