Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Undiplomatic about the European diplomatic service

Ralitsa Kovacheva, March 10, 2010

When she announced in the European Parliament that the creation of the new European External Affairs Service as one of her priorities, the then candidate for the first EU diplomat Catherine Ashton hardly realised what a headache this could cause her. A month later baroness Ashton was caught in the middle of a cross fire because of the new institution. The creation of the Service is required by the Lisbon Treaty, as is Ashton's post - she has to manage it by being in the same time a vice president of the European Commission. How the Service will be organised and how it will function will be proposed by a Committee, presided by Lady Ashton and approved by EU leaders by the end of April. The draft, which is now circulating as a working document, is fiercely criticised.

On the one hand, Britain, Germany and France are leading a fierce battle for the distribution of the most attractive EU posts and therefore of their influence. In the beginning of March the British daily Guardian wrote that Germany and France were strongly against the "British invasion" in the new European External Affairs Service (EEAS). They also blame Britain that it has "grabbed an "excessive" and "over-proportionate" role".

On his part the British foreign minister David Miliband and his Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt wrote an open letter to Catherine Ashton, insisting the baroness to ensure that the posts in the new diplomatic service would be distributed in a transparent and fair way and that member states would not be deprived on behalf of the Brussels officials - servants of the Secretariats of the Council and the Commission.

Bildt and Miliband want equal rights for the officials and the representatives of member states who will be temporary agents. In the current European institutions the officials have more rights in the areas of budgetary management than the temporary agents who are on the same level. The new member states will insist on geographic balance, hoping to get proper posts.

According to the Times newspaper Britain is afraid that Lady Ashton doesn't have enough power to win the battle with the Commission. A fresh example, according to the supporters of this thesis, is the appointment of Joao Vale de Almeida, a Portuguese and a counselor of the Commission's president Jose Manuel Barroso as a new EU ambassador to the US.

Aside from the 5 thousand posts in the new institutions Catherine Ashton will have to fight with the Commission for more power too. In their letter Miliband and Bildt insist the future service to get control over more operative budgets, like the one for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Stability instrument as well. They explain that the service could take a leading strategic role in the European Development Fund, the instrument for Development and Cooperation (in support of South Africa and 47 developing countries in Latin America and Asia), as well as the Neighbourhood and Partnership instrument (through which the EU provides assistance in Eastern Europe, the Southern Caucuses and the South Mediterranean), while the Commission has executive functions.

Ashton's proposal is still a draft and in spite of the strong pressure, it seems less likely that it could be debated, agreed and approved by the end of April. Even less are the chances the service to become operational by the autumn, as EU leaders' ambitions are, because without a legal basis, the appointment of servants cannot start.

But what should the service look like in order to make a difference between an ordinary ministry of foreign affairs and the 27 EU foreign ministers, asks in his blog the journalist Dan Smith. He adds, that the service could take the most precious in European experience - the development of long-term policies. Dan Smith also points three key areas where the EEAS could play a long-term role: security and peace, climate issues, environment and resources and equal international trade relations.

Based upon these three pillars, the EU could and should develop its policies towards Russia, the Middle East and China, its alliances and its support for international development, too. It's the long-term perspective which is really worth it, the journalist concludes. The question is whether such a vision is possible for the countries, distributing the stakes, the posts and the budgets in the new European institution. And how sincere baroness Ashton is when saying that she doesn't want to stop the traffic but to put it into motion*.

*In a comment what the EU president should be, the British foreign minister David Miliband says that he or she should be someone, worth stopping the traffic in Washington for, having in mind Tony Blair and hinting that the EU president must be a popular and charismatic person.