Stanley's blog

The new EU Diplomatic Service

An interesting Konrad Adenauer Stiftung debate on Wednesday, led by Elmar Brok, MEP, prompts me to offer some reflections on the planned new European External Action Service and the EU High Representative for Foreign & Security Policy. (ugh! I will go on referring to them as EU Diplomatic Service and Foreign Policy Chief).

The earlier post of 27 January gave the overall picture. Five points:

  1. The subject may not sound exciting but is critically important for the future of the EU.
  2. The battle for the three top EU appointments – president of the European Council, Commission president and foreign policy chief – will be intriguing.
  3. This ‘battle of personalities’ could help the perceived legitimacy of the Union because if there is lively media coverage, European citizens can relate to it.
  4. The undercurrent of the debate is whether the result will herald a further shift towards intergovernmentalism.
  5. The new treaty is designed for the EU to progress towards a single EU voice on external policy.

The Lisbon Treaty gives limited guidance for the new EU Diplomatic Service. The new service is “to work in cooperation with the diplomatic services of the Member States” and comprise officials from the Council secretariat and the Commission and secondees from the Member States. A Council decision will establish the service, following a proposal from the Foreign Policy Chief, after consulting Parliament and obtaining the Commission’s consent. Thus in practice there has to be an agreement between all three EU institutions, because although Parliament only advises, it needs to approve the budget and, in the words of Andrew Duff, MEP, “the power of the purse” will come into play. So we can anticipate an inter-institutional struggle.

Discussions have begun and must be advanced, because the treaty stipulates that preparatory work had to begin after the its signing. There exists a 2005 Joint Progress Report of High Representative Javier Solana and the Commission, following a round of discussions. Key elements of this report were:

  • The service should be ‘sui generis’ and not a new institution, but a service under the Foreign Policy Chief, “with close links to both the Council and the Commission.”
  • The purpose of the service is to assist the Foreign Policy Chief in his various functions including that of Commission Vice-President.
  • The Chief must ensure overrall coherence and consistency in policies and the service will need all the geographical desks but also thematic desks covering human rights, counter terrorism, non-proliferation and relations with the UN.
  • The current Commission delegations in third countries would become Union Delegations, under the Foreign Policy Chief’s authority and as an integral part of the Service.

It is to be hoped that the solution adopted will be evolutionary, flexible and pragmatic, achieved without any institutional ‘turf battle’. While the Commission needs serious operational reform, its institutional role is critically important and must be safeguarded. In the words of Elmar Brok, MEP, this will be “a decisive battle for the future of the EU.” It is critically important that the new set-up does not herald a further shift towards intergovernmentalism. Parliament appears determined that this will not happen and this is also in the interests of the smaller Member States.

I will return in later posts to the battle for the three top EU jobs. Since I wrote, the name of Anders Fogh Rasmussen has been mentioned for European Council president – Danish, from a northern and small Member State, ALDE.

Trade apart, the EU has so far failed to gets its external policy act together. Considerable incremental progress has been made in CFSP (common foreign & security policy) and EDSP (European defence & security policy), but the Union and its Member States still speak with several diverse and sometimes competing voices on foreign policy. This is paradoxical as opinion polls have successively shown that EU citizens want the
Union to forge a common foreign policy and speak with one voice. And many countries around the world would welcome a clear European voice. Only the egotism and shortsightedness of national political leaders prevents this happening. The new treaty offers the opportunity for serious progress to be made in external policy, provided that the right EU leaders are chosen.

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  1. “Only the egotism and shortsightedness of national political leaders prevents this happening.”

    I think this a slightly superficial analysis of foreign policy differences in the Union. Often different approaches are driven by rational reasons and reflect the differing situations of individual member states.

  2. Thank you, rz, for drawing attention to my lack of clarity. My point is that “the egotism and shortsightedness of national political leaders prevents” the Union forging a common foreign policy and speaking with one voice. This is not to suggest that suddenly 27 Member States would otherwise agree.

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