The European External Action Service (EEAS) one year on

Ashton Reports to the European Institutions

European Foreign Policy matters. The European Union encompasses 27 countries, representing 500 million people, 25 per cent of the world’s GDP and 20 per cent of the world’s trade. What the European Union does outside of its borders is important for billions of people the world over. So the establishment of the European External Action Service just over a year ago in December 2010 is not to be seen as just some bureaucratic issue that only affectsBrussels.

How the European Union does foreign policy and who does the foreign policy day to day critically affects the agenda, the methods and the outcomes.

In December 2010, QCEA cautiously welcomed the establishment of the EEAS and set out the many challenges it faced at that crucial moment: organisational issues, budget issues, recruitment and training issues, and the daily working routines in teams that have multiple lines of accountability.

In December 2011, Catherine Ashton, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Vice President of the European Commission, published a report to the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on progress made.

Two things are striking: the report was published on 22 December 2011, a date which could look as if it was intended to give it as little publicity as possible. The other is that the Foreign Ministers of 12 Member States wrote to the High Representative on 8 December 2011 setting out only thinly veiled criticism of the progress made and of Catherine Ashton’s leadership of the EEAS in what is referred to as a non-paper.

Indeed, Catherine Ashton’s report refers to this non-paper in her report.

The context

Ashton’s report is rather defensive in its approach, a point which is jumped on by various press articles in the European Voice. She sets out as part of the political context the foreign policy challenges that she and the Service have faced, but without being clear about what she and her Service have achieved with regard to any of them.

The first of the challenges she names is the global economic crisis and the tensions within the euro zone. It is instructive that this is her first thought on the political context because it is probably the one element of the political context of the year that she and her Service have had least to do with.

The second challenge she cites is the Arab Spring. This was (and still is), indeed, a significant challenge to the European Union as it rewrites its approach and agenda against the backdrop of European engagement with the former dictatorships in these countries. There is no question that the EEAS responded quickly and has done its best to extract credibility from that reaction against a rather unhelpful history. To some extent that succeeded. But the NATO response inLibyaand the splits between Member States of the EU with regard to this also showed up once again how divided the 27 Member States are on key foreign policy issues.

The third challenge she lists is the acute budget pressure faced by MemberStatesand the consequences this has for the diplomatic services of Member States. She says, possibly referring to all of these challenges, but possibly only referring to the budget pressures – it is not clear from the text – that this is ‘hardly the ideal backdrop for the launch of a new service for the external relations of the Union’[1]. This is a strange and very defensive statement indeed. All three challenges should provide an ideal context in which to demonstrate the importance of a coherent and coordinated approach to foreign policy within the European Union. But even if this statement were meant only to refer to the budget pressures: what better time to demonstrate that a diplomatic service at European Union level could actually provide some economies of scale and thus savings at national level without loss of effectiveness.

Agenda setting

One of the key roles the High Representative has is to set the agenda for the EU’s foreign policy. This role, previously taken by the rotating presidency, is vital. It involves both preparing and chairing the Foreign Affairs Council and providing the chairs of the foreign policy working groups from within the EEAS. These chairs, in turn, set the agenda for their working groups and are thus equally well placed to drive forward the priorities set by the High Representative.

She has appointed the chairs of all these working groups: The Political and Security Committee (PSC), the Military Committee, the Committee for Civilian Aspects of Crisis Management (CICOM), the Politico-Military Group, the Africa Working Party (COAFR), The Working Party on Eastern Europe and Central Asia (COEST), the Working Party on the Western Balkans (COWEB), the Working Party on the OSCE (COSCE), the Mashreq/Maghreb Working Party (MAMA), the ad hoc Working Party on the Middle East Peace Process (COMEP), the Working Party on Transatlantic Relations (COTRA), the Working Party on Latin America (COLAT), the United Nations Working Party (CONUN), the Working Party on Human Rights (COHOM), the Working Party on Conventional Arms Exports (COARM), the Working Party on Non-Proliferation (CONOP), and the Working Party on Global Disarmament and Arms Control (CODUN).

But in the non-paper, the Foreign Ministers of 12 Member States suggest that there might be ways to further optimize the identification of political priorities and that annual agenda planning for the Foreign Affairs Council (and that would, of necessity involve similar and coordinated planning in the working groups) could be an important tool.

So there is room for improvement and such improvement could put the EEAS and therefore the EU into a position where it can be more proactive and less reactive in terms of its foreign policy.

Representation at the UN

The EU is not a member of the UN. Its 27 Member States are, with two of them (Franceand theUK) permanent members of the Security Council. Other EU Member States can be elected to the ten non-permanent seats. At present,GermanyandPortugalare among the non-permanent members (until the end of 2012). This makes it harder for the EU to be seen as ‘one voice’ at UN level and there have been a number of cases where different EU Member States have taken very different positions at UN level.

In May 2011 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution which gives the EU an upgraded status allowing its representatives to make interventions during sessions; they can be invited to participate in the general debate of the General Assembly; and EU communications which relate to the work of the Assembly can be circulated as documents of the Assembly. In short, it gives the EU the possibility to present a common position.

One voice?

Geographical Desks

There is an agreement that the geographical desks – i.e. the officials who provide geographical expertise with regard to third countries are maintained in the EEAS. This means that they also provide briefing material on those countries to senior EU actors outside of the EEAS. The report sets out that briefing requests during the period 1 January 2011 to 30 September 2011 were handled by the geographic desks as follows:

  • High Representative (Ashton) 243
  • President of the European Council (Van Rompuy) 67
  • President of the European Commission (Barroso) 125
  • European Commissioner: Enlargement and Neighbourhood 235

What is interesting is the absence of the Commissioners for Development, for Humanitarian Assistance, for Trade and for Research (to name only the most obvious Commission portfolios with interaction with third countries); evidently, they did not request or receive briefings from the EEAS. That begs the question as to whether they have geographic desks/specialists in their own Directorates General.

Management of Funding

The EEAS is not just about Foreign Policy, it is also about External Action. For those less familiar with the finer distinctions of EU policy and the EU Treaties, this may be a confusing idea. What’s the difference between Foreign Policy and External Action? This is not the place to go into detail but essentially, and for the purpose of this discussion, this relates specifically to development cooperation (and the funding of that cooperation), the financial assistance available to countries in the European Neighbourhood, the financial assistance available to countries that are likely to join the European Union in the medium term, and the support for crisis management and peacebuilding and conflict prevention. All this is funded through a range of so-called Financial Instruments.

Prior to the advent of the EEAS, policies were made and funds managed as follows:

Financial Instrument Policy Responsibility Management of Funding

Instrument for Development Cooperation

Directorate General for Development

EuropeAid

European Development Fund

Directorate General for Development

EuropeAid

European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights

Directorate General for External Relations (RELEX)

EuropeAid

Instrument for Stability

Directorate General for External Relations (RELEX)

EuropeAid and RELEX

European Neighbourhood Instrument

Directorate General for External Relations (RELEX)

EuropeAid

Instrument for Pre-Accession

Directorate General for Enlargement

Directorate General for Enlargement

The EEAS was intended to consolidate the Foreign Policy and External Action work of the European Union and it therefore could be expected that the management of the funding had been, similarly, consolidated. The picture now is, however:

Financial Instrument Policy Responsibility Management of Funding

Instrument for Development Cooperation

EEAS

Directorate General for Development and Cooperation

European Development Fund

EEAS

Directorate General for Development and Cooperation

European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights

EEAS

Directorate General for Development and Cooperation

Instrument for Stability (and the budget for the Common and Foreign and Security Policy)

EEAS

Foreign Policy Instrument Service (Commission Unit reporting to Ashton in her role as Vice President of the Commission)

European Neighbourhood Instrument

EEAS

Directorate General for Development and Cooperation

Instrument for Pre Accession

Directorate General for Enlargement

Directorate General for Enlargement

Ashton refers to this not totally streamlined situation only with reference to the creation of the Foreign Policy Instruments Service and she says: ‘Taking account of the constraints, the cooperation between this service and the relevant EEAS departments is satisfactory, but there remain challenges in ensuring sufficient flexibility and responsiveness in implementing urgent measures in crisis situations given the constraints of the financial regulation.’[2] Given that this Service is quite a small team this less than glowing statement about its integration into the overall scheme of things is suggesting that not even some fairly basic organizational management issues have passed without potentially serious problems.

Inter-institutional Relationships

The 12 Foreign Ministers in their non-paper do not comment on this issue specifically but remark more generally that cooperation between the EEAS and the Commission could be better. It asks whether the EEAS has the right structures to be integrated into the planning and preparations of key Commission initiatives which have external aspects and dimensions.

What all these rather pedestrian and organizational issues reveal, however, is that the decision to have an EEAS which did not include all possible external relations elements of the European Union (it excluded from the outset issues such as Humanitarian Aid and Trade; it excludes Enlargement and Neighbourhood policy; it excludes the external dimensions of energy policy) is mirrored by evolving structures which do not overcome these structural challenges easily. And the suggestion behind the concerns raised in the non-paper is that good communication (which would at least go some way to ameliorate these shortcomings) is not as well developed as it might be.

EU Delegations

The EU delegations are the diplomatic presence of the EU in third countries. Before the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009 they were delegations of the European Commission. They became delegations of the EU on that date and have become a key part of the EEAS; their development in the first year of the EEAS has created a number of key challenges.

All the delegations are staffed by officials from the EEAS and from various European Commission Directorates. Whilst the Head of Delegation is an EEAS official and whilst all delegation staff report directly to the Head of Delegation, those who come from other Directorates also receive instruction from their Directorates in Brussels. This is clearly a challenge in terms of managing a team in a delegation. There is evidence in Ashton’s report and in the non-paper that this does not always work well and that this needs to be improved.

One of the elements of criticism is the implication that Heads of Delegations are not always informed of the instructions their staff receive from Directorates inBrussels. From the point of view of a citizen, reasonably experienced in management tasks, this is nothing short of scandalous. That this has to be addressed in what is – after all – a public report rather than being resolved through a brief discussion and agreement at Commission level and a clear instruction within each of the Directorates of the Commission would be funny if it was not so serious.

Another element that is addressed in both documents is the fact that in some cases Heads of Delegations are bogged down in administrative and financial management tasks (including signing off payments) simply because they are the only officials from the EEAS (as opposed to Commission Directorates) in the Delegation and because they cannot delegate such financial/administrative tasks to officials from the Commission. The fact that 12 Foreign Ministers need to take the time to point out (in their non-paper) that the Financial Regulations which cause this farcical situation need to be changed is beyond belief.

Other Managerial Issues

Ashton’s report then goes into quite a lot of detail on subjects such as the structure, staffing and recruitment, budget and financial management issues. They are, no doubt, all very important. They need to be resolved. The fact that they have not yet been resolved shows that progress has been much slower than might be expected.

This may have more to do with the undue haste with which the Service was set up. During the years since the proposal to establish the EEAS was first put forward (in 2003 in the draft of the ill-fated Constitutional Treaty) it has been clear that such a service is necessary and would come about sooner or later. The unwillingness of anyone in the EU Institutions and in the Member States to have coherent preparatory discussions about what this service should look like and what technical, organizational, and personnel issues would have to be resolved, simply because this might have been construed as pre-empting the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, struck QCEA as ill-advised at the time and the lack of progress in the last 12 months on many of these issues has proved that right.

Involvement of Member States

The relationship between the EEAS and the Member States at the most senior level is not really addressed in Ashton’s report.

She does address the question of cooperation between the EU Delegations and the Member State Embassies in third countries. One of the main changes brought about by the introduction of the EEAS is the fact that the responsibilities which were carried out by the Member State Embassy which represents the rotating presidency of the EU are now carried out by the EU delegation. Ashton reports that this has gone ‘remarkable smoothly’[3]. The report suggests that in this regard the Delegations to multilateral organizations (UN, OSCE, Council of Europe, etc.) still leave some room for positive developments. From the point of view of the credibility of the EU, it can only be hoped that this happens sooner rather than later.

What is surprising is the reference in paragraph 20 of the report to the issues relating to consular assistance. This, and especially because it is a service clearly visible to citizens, should be resolved quickly and pragmatically.

The non-paper flags up under this heading the need to move towards achieving the one thirdMemberStateofficials in the EEAS agreed under theLisbonTreaty.. The rather specific and detailed recommendations put forward suggest that there is a sense that the processes necessary to make the move from and to the EEAS and from and to Member States diplomatic services has not been fully thought through in practical terms. This could have been addressed  had there been more of a lead time in implementing the Service.

But beyond these ‘nitty-gritty’ issues, there must be a question about the relationship between Ashton and the Foreign Ministers of Member States if 12 of them think it necessary to produce a non-paper in advance of her annual report. The Member States concerned, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden, are a broad group and this breadth may reflect a general sense of discontent which does not help to portray the EU as one coherent actor.

Conclusions

There was never any reason not to do some preliminary planning for a structural change which Member States wanted even if there was a slight risk that it might not happen soon.

The result is that for 12 months, during which there have been a number of significant global events, the top brass of the European Union’s Foreign Policy have been bogged down in managing a large scale organizational transition. If nothing else, this has undermined the ability of the EU to be seen as a global actor of consequence.

The EEAS now has 3611 staff, of which about two thirds are working in Delegations and the other one third inBrussels. This is a huge resource and it is hoped that in the coming year and years citizens will see more action, more visibility and more impact.


[1] European External Action Service, Report by the High Representative to the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, 22nd December 2011, paragraph 3, p. 1, accessed on 10 January 2012 at:

http://www.eeas.europa.eu/images/top_stories/2011_eeas_report_cor.pdf

[2] ibid., paragraph 15, p. 6

[3] Ibid., paragraph 16, p. 7

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About Martina Weitsch

Martina worked for Quaker Council for European Affairs as one of two Joint Representatives from 2002 to October 2012. Her main areas of work were the EU role in Palestine/Israel, EU peacebuilding, conflict prevention and crisis management, EU finances, democratic accountability and relations with the European Investment Bank.
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