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The External Action Service Gets the Green Light

5 August 2010

On 26 July, following an agreement between the three institutions (the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council), foreign ministers adopted an official decision establishing the new European External Action Service (EEAS) and setting out its organisation and functioning. This ended long inter-institutional squabbles over how it should be organised, who should control the budget, etc. Although there is still some legislative work left (like amendments to the EU staff and financial regulations) and Baroness Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, still has to fight for the EEAS’s share in the EU 2010 budget, the Service should be up and running by 1 December 2010, exactly one year after the Lisbon Treaty entered into force.

The EEAS will consist of a central administration in Brussels, comprising geographic desks, as well as multilateral and thematic desks, a strategic policy planning and other departments, and the 136 Union delegations in third countries and to other organisations. Initially, it will have a staff of around 1,200, but gradually this number will grow. At least one third of the staff will be appointed by Member states, while at least 60% will be from the EU institutions, thus underlying the EU credentials of the nascent diplomatic corps.

Understandably, everyone now seems to be focused on who will get what, as Baroness Ashton is due to name the top officials of the central administration and Heads of Delegations in 30 countries. Member States have been lobbying long and hard to place their “best and brightest” to the top posts such as the Executive Secretary-General of the EEAS, and two Deputy Secretaries-General, who will actually manage the day-to-day functioning of the EEAS.  Through this process have resurfaced the divisions between big and small, old and new Member States. It will be a delicate task for Baroness Ashton to ensure that the final make-up of the central administration and heads of delegations reflects adequate geographical, as well as gender balance.

The underlying question, however, is whether the EEAS will “give the EU a stronger voice around the world, and greater impact on the ground,” as Baroness Ashton hopes. The answer to this is twofold. On the one hand, the EEAS will not change much how the EU’s foreign policy is formulated. The establishment of the EEAS does not mean that national foreign policies and diplomacies will disappear. The bottom line is that Baroness Ashton and the EEAS will be able to go only as far as the 27 Member States allow, because the decisions regarding foreign and security policy require unanimity. So, if the EU is to have a “stronger voice”, the Member States should be willing to let Baroness Ashton speak on their behalf. Otherwise, as she has joked herself referring to the famous Henry Kissinger’s question whom to call in Europe, the EU will have now a number to call, but the caller would hear a voice asking to “press one for the French position, two for the German position, three for the United Kingdom, etc.”

On the other hand, it is very important for the EU to have an “integrated approach” that would link different policies – from development to crisis management and humanitarian aid – so that the EU could be more effective “on the ground”. The EEAS could potentially bring together economic, political, and civil and military crisis management tools that the EU has. Currently, as Baroness Ashton points out, “too much depends on ad-hoc arrangements and the creativity of individuals”. If there are comprehensive strategies in some places, it is “despite our structures, not because of them”. If Baroness Ashton and the EEAS would succeed in developing more coherent EU’s action in various hot-spots around the world, the EU could indeed strengthen its presence on the international stage.

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