Fewer National Diplomats in External Action Service - Big Win for EU Member States

Editorial |Author: Ognian Kassabov | July 28, 2010, Wednesday // 21:56|  views

The European Union made a crucial step toward actually equipping itself with its own diplomatic corps on July 26, when the Council adopted a decision on the organization and functioning of the European External Action Service (EEAS).

The goal now is that the EEAS become operative by December 1, the anniversary of the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, which boosted EU common external action by creating the position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, currently held by Catherine Ashton, and by mandating it to be backed by a future External Action Service.

Monday’s Council decision – coming some four months since Ashton’s first proposal on the structure of EEAS was put forth – was the outcome of a long-drawn negotiation process among stakeholders, including the EU High Representative, the European Commission, the European Parliament, and member-states.

Among the many important hurdles in the process was the issue of the share of EEAS staff to come from the diplomatic services of member-states and the share to come from among public servants in EU institutions.

Greater representation of national diplomatic services might sound appealing insofar as it upholds the national interests and perceived sovereignty of member-states. Nevertheless, it would have in effect hampered the very purpose for which the EEAS is intended and would have proved to the detriment of the Union and its members.

Thus a crucial point was scored when the final Council decision prescribed that the majority – at least 60% – of staff should come from the Commission and Council. Member-states’ foreign ministries will have a share of “at least one third.”

The Lisbon Treaty, which mentions the EEAS only in Art.27(3), says only that the EEAS shall cooperate with member-states’ diplomatic services, and shall be composed by officials from the Council, the Commission and national diplomatic services.

This allowed for the lack of specification of proportions in the initial organization proposals for the EEAS, but their introduction was strongly pressed for, foremost by the European Parliament. Which, by the way, scored an important institutional win.

The EP’s punchline: the EU needs a External Action Service based on the Community principle, rather than on intergovernmentalism. Throwing jargon aside, the thrust is right: if we are to have a genuine EU foreign service, then it needs full-fledged institutional standing as a EU-body and independence from national authorities.

And having a genuine foreign service is what the EU must do, if it is to be a true body politic – if it has gone beyond being merely a shared market project. Which plain facts show that it has.

The very idea behind the reforms in EU’s foreign action introduced in Lisbon was to enable the Union to acquire its own coherent image, standing and leverage in the international scene – to “speak in one voice,” as they say.

But then the External Action Service, which will represent the Union across the globe and could give vital support to its foreign affairs High Representative, must be a truly unified body with a Community-profile and institutional status.

EU member-states have a long history of own diplomatic services, by which to further their national interests and international commitments. They have little to gain by infiltrating the nascent foreign service of the Union they formed.

What is most obvious, pulling for greater national influence within the EEAS would create new unnecessary doublings. National foreign services can promote national interests – the EEAS will promote shared goals on the EU level. No need to criss-cross.

Greater representation of national foreign services in the EEAS would also affect adversely the Service’s effectiveness, hampering its internal coherence. What is worse, that would not prove beneficial even for countries supporting laxer integration. For intrainstitutional dynamics in the EU relentlessly show that officials end up identifying with structures and positions within the institution itself, rather than with the member-state that sent them out. Greater national influence on the EEAS would just be an illusion that would nevertheless cost resources and precious time.

And the EU needs to speed up coming out on the international scene as a unified actor. Thus member-states should hope for a swifter ironing-out of the many outstanding issues around the EEAS – like budgeting, parliamentary control, precise organization and staffing of key positions.

Calling for fair representation of all member states within the overall EEAS staff – something that Bulgaria, among others, did – is indeed right, but that is not the best way of defending national interests. Member-states, especially smaller ones, should be looking at other ways.

If member-states are genuinely concerned about sovereign accountability of EU’s foreign service, then they could for instance work for stronger involvement and control on the part of the European Parliament. And they could work towards forging institutional ties between their national parliaments and the European. This space was widely opened by the Treaty of Lisbon, but has yet been largely unexplored.

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Tags: European Union, European Commission, European parliament, Council of the European Union, Lisbon Treaty, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, High Representative, Catherine Ashton, External Action Service, EEAS, Bulgaria


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