"The election day on a certain island doesn't matter so much," said Elmar Brok, a leading German MEP from the European People's Party (EPP).
On Tuesday, he gave a press conference together with the other Parliament co-rapporteur on the EEAS, Liberal group leader Guy Verhofstadt.
Brok and Verhofstadt tabled a 'non-paper' outlining the EU assembly's views regarding the Union's future diplomatic service.
The document is accompanied by an organisational chart which is strikingly different from the one which had already emerged from the services of EU foreign affairs and security chief Catherine Ashton.
Brok and Verhofstadt insisted that their text represented the Parliament's views across party lines, a position confirmed by Socialist & Democrats (S&D) MEP Adrian Severin, a former Romanian foreign minister present at the conference.
Compared to the Ashton draft, MEPs want a diplomatic service that is much closer to the European Commission. They also insist that Ashton must be referred to as the HR/VP - High Representative and Commission Vice-President - as her full title indicates.
A sui generis case
"Clearly the EEAS cannot be an 'institution' as these are determined by the Treaty," the MEPs argued. "Neither can it be an 'agency' or an 'office', as their remits are more limited and specific."
"As none of the possibilities mentioned above can be used, it must therefore be linked to an existing institution," the MEPs said.
"In view of the fact that a large majority of elements that will form part of the EEAS's duties are currently part of the Commission's competences (including development aid and neighbourhood policy) and that the Commission possesses the necessary know-how in both administrative and budgetary matters, it is clear that the EEAS and the European Commission should be linked," MEPs state.
Brok attacked in particular what he described as the "French-style" post of secretary-general, envisaged under Ashton's draft, whom he said would run the EEAS web "like a spider".
Instead, the parliamentarians are proposing that Ashton be assisted by three deputies: one dealing with bilateral affairs, another with multilateral issues and the third dealing with crisis management.
A civil servant, such as a secretary-general, cannot represent the EEAS vis-à-vis the Parliament, the MEPs insisted. However, they added that the three commissioners working with Ashton (EurActiv 15/03/10) and her three deputies – who would be seen as "politically responsible" – could represent the Service in its contact with Parliament.
MEPs also said the system they were proposing was better suited to smaller EU countries, which as a rule "feel better under the Community method".
Ashton sweet-talks Parliament
Later on, Ashton reassured Parliament that its oversight role would be taken into account in setting up the EEAS.
Speaking to the Parliament's foreign affairs committee, Ashton said the EU Assembly had "a right" to be involved in the process and rejected the interpretation that the EEAS would be "less communautaire" than the Commission.
"Not only are you going to give an opinion on the EEAS, but you also have an important role regarding the budget and you have co-decision power as far as the required changes to the Financial Regulation and the Staff Regulation are concerned," the High Representative said.
She also insisted that the influence of Parliament would not only be "ex ante" through the budget procedure, but also "ex post" through standard budgetary control procedures.
Answering a question from Kristian Vigenin (S&D; Bulgaria) as to how she was planning to have "a proper geographical distribution of posts, which is important for new and small member countries," Ashton said she wanted "all member states to be represented but it will take time".
Last but not least, Ashton assured MEPs that they would be offered VIP treatment by her services when travelling abroad.
"Heads of delegations will be at your disposal when issues in relation to their host countries are examined by the European Parliament. I also envisage that each EU delegation will have a point of contact for the Parliament. Finally, all delegations in the EEAS will be instructed to support official visits by members of the European Parliament," Ashton said.
Diplomats said EU leaders would not discuss the EEAS at their summit on 25-26 March, at least not officially. Indeed, the issue is not on the agenda of the European Council, which is the only body that can extend Ashton's deadline for tabling a formal proposal.
Ashton did not answer MEPs' questions about the timeframe for the setting up the service.