Introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, the European External Action Service (EEAS) is intended to give the European Union a greater role in foreign policy. It is now operational, though its scope and competences have been the subject of fierce debate among EU countries.

Overview

The European Union has started to answer Henry Kissinger's famous question, 'Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?'

Catherine Ashton, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who is also a vice-president of the European Commission in charge of external relations, was appointed in 2009 with the ambition of finally answering that call.

The Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force on 1 December 2009, created a new European diplomatic corps: the European External Action Service (EEAS). Headed by Ashton, it became operational on 1 December 2010 – exactly one year after its inception.

The service integrates the European Commission's existing foreign representations into a network of embassies representing the EU. It is staffed by officials from the Commission and European Council Secretariat – who represent 60% – and national civil servants.

From 1 July 2013, access to EEAS posts should be opened up to officials from other EU institutions, such as the European Parliament. At least one third of all staff will come from member states’ diplomatic services.

When fully operational, the EEAS will comprise around 5,500 officials in total, thus comparing in size to the foreign office of a large European country. The German Foreign Office, for example, employs 6,000 diplomats.

The creation of the service was far from plain sailing. Its composition, nature and scope have triggered turf wars between EU member states and brought nervous reactions from EU institutions.

EU ministers reached agreement on Ashton’s proposed EEAS in April 2010, but the Parliament made clear that it disliked the plans. The stand-off was resolved in June, when the Spanish EU Presidency reached a compromise on the organisation and operation of the service.

On 20 October 2010, MEPs approved the last three legislative texts required to launch the EEAS – on staffing, finances and the 2010 budget. This cleared the way for Ashton to appoint her 28-strong managerial team for the new service.

Ten of the 28 senior officials come from the current EU institutions, while six are from the Central and Eastern European countries that joined the bloc in 2004 and 2007 (see EurActiv 22/12/10).

Issues

Lisbon Treaty gave scant indication

At the insistence of the UK and other countries such as Poland, which favour looser EU integration, the Lisbon Treaty stresses that foreign policy remains essentially a national prerogative. 

Although the service will initially be composed of existing staff – predominantly Commission and Council officials – at least one third of all EEAS staff will come from national diplomatic services.

In its annexed Declaration 14, the EU Treaties state clearly "that the provisions covering the Common Foreign and Security Policy do not give new powers to the Commission to initiate decisions, nor do they increase the role of the European Parliament".

In addition, Article 24 states that the European Court of Justice shall not have jurisdiction over foreign policy except in matters related to the Union's exclusive competences, such as trade or enlargement policy.

Only Article 27 (Paragraph 3) deals directly with the European External Action Service. It states that "in fulfilling his mandate, the High Representative shall be assisted by a European External Action Service. This service shall work in cooperation with the diplomatic services of the member states".

Sketchy proposal

Catherine Ashton, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, was charged with drafting a proposal to be submitted to member states and Parliament for approval. This proposal, unveiled on 25 March 2010, was seen as too general and was immediately rejected by the European Parliament.

Ashton's 12-page proposal for establishing the EEAS apparently ignored the Parliament, which had rejected the 'French-style' set up in which a secretary-general would wield enormous power and run the service 'like a spider' with a web.

A civil servant, such as a secretary-general, cannot represent the EEAS vis-à-vis the Parliament, MEPs insisted. However, they added that the three commissioners working with Ashton as her deputies – who would be seen as "politically responsible" – could represent the service in its contacts with the Parliament.

Lawmakers also slammed Ashton's proposal for paying little attention to the Parliament in terms of political accountability. They also criticised what they saw as the "artificial separation of part of the development competences between EEAS and Commission services," calling it a "recipe for incoherence".

On 21 April 2010, leaders of the Parliament's three largest political groups warned against putting the future diplomatic corps under the thumb of EU member states. The next day, Ashton presented a revised blueprint – stripped of its proposed detailed organisational chart.

EU ministers reached "political agreement" on the proposal in April, but MEPs remained unimpressed. On 21 June 2010, the Spanish EU Presidency facilitated a compromise – with the Parliament assured that it has a say over a large part of the service's finances and will be informed in advance of strategic and policy decisions.

Structure and staffing

On 7 July 2010, 549 MEPs voted in favour of a compromise on the EEAS, with 78 against. Under the agreement, the Parliament will get a say over EU funds for third countries and scrutiny of the budget – which is €475.8 million for 2011.

The Parliament can also exert political control over the EU's foreign and security policy. It obtained the right to hear appointed EEAS ambassadors before they take up their post. In addition, should Catherine Ashton be unable to attend a plenary session, she will be replaced by a commissioner or national foreign minister.

Officials from the Commission and General Secretariat of the Council will make up 60% of staff, while at least one third will come from national diplomatic services. EU bosses have pledged that geographical and gender balance will be reflected. On 1 July 2013, posts will be opened to officials from other EU institutions, including the Parliament.

In view of the increased demand for seconded national officials, some foreign ministries have increased the number of posts available. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, for example, decided to widen the number of applicants selected for the next five years from 25 to 35.

The EEAS – which has its headquarters in Brussels – will be a functionally autonomous body of the European Union, separate from the Commission and the Council General Secretariat, with the legal capacity necessary to perform its tasks and attain its objectives.

The EEAS will be made up of a central administration and European Union delegations to third countries and international organisations. The central administration shall be organised into directorates-general, comprising geographic desks and multilateral and thematic desks.

The existing crisis management and planning directorate, civilian planning and conduct capability, European Union Military Staff and European Union Situation Centre will all be placed under the direct authority of the High Representative.

Commission delegations become EU embassies

With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the European Commission's foreign representations will be integrated in the EEAS and become the Union's embassies abroad. This implies that EU embassies will replace the rotating presidencies in the Union's external representation.

EU embassies might also function as consulates for EU citizens abroad should they not have a diplomatic representation in the country concerned. This has raised some concerns – especially among British politicians – that the EEAS might supplant national embassies.

The EU summit document also emphasises the sui generis legal status of the EEAS. This means the new service will be considered separate from the European Commission and the Council Secretariat: "It should have autonomy in terms of administrative budget and management staff."

Member states will not be able to decide alone on staffing and structure: such decisions will need to be accompanied by EU directives on budget and staffing, requiring the full approval of the Parliament.

The decision to open a delegation shall be adopted by the High Representative, after consulting the Council and the Commission. The decision to close a delegation shall also be adopted by the High Representative in agreement with the Council and the Commission.

Each EU delegation is to be led by a Head of Delegation, who will have authority over all staff in the delegation. In areas where it exercises the powers conferred to it by the Treaties, the Commission may also issue instructions to delegations, which shall be executed under the overall responsibility of that Head.

The Union delegations shall have the capacity to, at the request of member states, support EU countries in their diplomatic relations and in their role of providing consular protection to Union citizens in third countries.

An 'independent kingdom' outside control?

Parliamentarians and civil society representatives alike have expressed concern as to the real meaning of the sui generis nature of the EEAS.

Echoed by a number of MEPs including Andrew Duff and Roberto Gualtieri, Elmar Brok, the European Parliament's rapporteur on the EEAS, noted that the EU does not need a new bureaucracy "located in the middle between the Council and the Commission which in the long term would […] lead a life of its own to become an independent kingdom outside our control".

The MEPs thus called for greater democratic oversight and accountability of the EEAS by the European Parliament. They warned that the EEAS could end up having multiple faces, creating room to evade scrutiny.

Ashton's drafting committee

This is reflected in the double-hatted nature of EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, who is accountable both to the Council, which represents EU member states, and the European Commission, which represents the general EU interest.

Ashton's steering committee in charge of drafting the EEAS proposal was another reflection of the double nature of the EU's diplomatic service. It comprised Catherine Day (secretary-general of the Commission), João Vale de Almeida (director-general of the Commission's external relations DG), Pierre de Boissieau (secretary-general of the Council) and Robert Cooper (director-general at the Council Secretariat for External Economic Relations and Politico-Military Affairs).

The other members of this 13-people committee were Jean-Claude Piris (director of the Council's legal service), Patrick Child (the head of all the EU delegations in third countries), Helga Maria Schmid (director of the Policy Unit at the Council's General Secretariat) and James Morrison (Ashton's head of cabinet).

The EU's rotating presidencies, which continue under the Lisbon Treaty, were represented by Carlos Fernandez Arias Minuesa, Luis Romero Requena and Carlos Bastarreche for Spain, Jean de Ruyt for Belgium and Gabor Ivan for Hungary.

Some commentators criticised the role played by João Vale de Almeida in this respect. Appointed by Barroso in February, the Portuguese diplomat will head the EU delegation in Washington, replacing former Irish Prime Minister John Bruton. A close aide of Barroso, he was selected by the Commission without consulting member states, triggering criticism that EU treaty rules were being circumvented.

In addition, Ashton appointed Ambassador Poul Skytte Christoffersen as special advisor on the EEAS. Christoffersen began his new role on 1 March 2010.

Overlapping competences on development aid

Although the Lisbon Treaty clearly distributes competences to institutions according to policy areas (e.g. trade, aid and enlargement in external representation are handled by the Commission), Cecilia Malmström, a former Swedish minister for European affairs, stated that "it still remains to be established exactly where the dividing line between the Commission and the External Action Service is to go with regard to aid".

Indeed, the EU development commissioner, Latvia's Andris Piebalgs, appears to share common ground with the Bulgarian EU commissioner, who is responsible for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response. Both, together with Czech Stefan Füle, who is responsible for enlargement and neighbourhood policy, have to answer to Catherine Ashton. This creates a new form of hierarchy and represented another risk factor, MEPs argued. 

Some parliamentarians have expressed the view that making the commissioners' portfolios overlap was part of a strategy by Commission President José Manuel Barroso to become the sole arbiter and gain a precious early advantage in future turf wars.

Ultimately the accountability of the service will be tested by areas of contention and overlap. In this respect, it is likely that the High Representative (HR) will play a key role in determining whether the EEAS's action in specific cases should be overseen by the Commission or the Council. This institutional troubleshooting role might even be more important considering the limited role for the European Court of Justice in this domain.

Ashton's blueprint says that in the framework of the management of EU external cooperation programmes, the HR and the EEAS shall contribute to the programming and management cycle for the following geographic and thematic instruments:

  • The Development Cooperation Instrument;
  • the European Development Fund;
  • the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights;
  • the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument;
  • the Instrument for Cooperation with Industrialised Countries, and;
  • the Instrument for Nuclear Safety Cooperation.

Who holds the five keys?

Another important issue is the division of labour between the Commission and EEAS diplomats. Until now, the Commission's services abroad have been largely responsible for development and cooperation programmes, but not for diplomacy proper. Decision-making in development-related fields will take place in five stages, with diplomats in charge of the first, more political stages and the Commission's services taking over for the next, more technical levels.

Concretely, the Ashton proposal says that EEAS shall in particular have responsibility for preparing the following Commission decisions on the strategic, multi-annual steps within the programming cycle:

(i) Country allocations to determine the global financial envelope for each region (subject to the indicative breakdown of the financial perspectives);

(ii) country and regional strategic papers, and;

(iii) national and regional indicative programmes.

Staffing headache

As French Secretary of State for European Affairs Pierre Lellouche put it, "the External Action Service is a tripod" comprising Commission staff, Council staff and seconded national officials who should in principle be equally distributed.

Yet staffing will likely prove one of the most sensitive issues for at least five reasons.

Firstly, it is likely that no uniform selection procedure will be put in place. Each of the three entities has its own strict selection procedure and asking national diplomats to perform additional tests looks unlikely. However, EU officials argue that it would be unjust to "parachute" newcomers from national ministries into their positions, allowing them to bypass the difficult recruitment procedures that all EU officials normally have to endure.

Secondly, there is a fear that member states from the 2004 and 2007 enlargements might be kept out of higher posts, with officials from the large member states of 'old Europe' taking the best jobs available.

Thirdly, the case of João Vale de Almeida has already revealed an institutional divide between the Commission and the Council, which are fighting for the top jobs at EU embassies, as well as for positions as Ashton's senior deputies.

Antonio Missiroli, director of studies at the European Policy Centre, says Ashton has been left with a job description that will be "nearly impossible" to complete without hiring deputies, because she will have to combine the travel schedule of Javier Solana with the bureaucratic duties of a commissioner.

Fourthly, balances between gender, nationality and institutions should not be struck to the detriment of merit or used as a trump card in the selection process, insiders say.

Finally, problems remain regarding the role of seconded national civil servants. Officials in national embassies have temporary placements which prevent them from spending too much time in one country. It is yet to be defined whether secondment to the EEAS will still fall into the temporary placement category or whether it will be permanent.

UK election factor

The strict timeline for adopting the decision on setting up the EEAS by the end of April 2010 was mainly dictated by national politics.

Why April? Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a German liberal MEP, had explained that "the United Kingdom has elections in May and everyone believes that the Eurosceptic attitude of the UK will be worsened in the aftermath of the election," he said, referring to the possibility that the Conservatives would win the elections.

In the European Parliament, the UK Conservatives could have tried to delay a vote on the EEAS until the new British government came into power. The decision on setting up the EEAS only requires the European Parliament to be consulted. However, Lambsdorff warned that "you can use the consultation procedure in a terrible way," saying there is a risk that the vote could be delayed for an indefinite period of time.

Moreover, the Parliament has full co-decision powers on staffing and budgetary issues and Lambsdorff believes this can "offer leverage to influence an area where the Parliament is only consulted".

Representing the Union in international fora

With its new foreign policy chief (Catherine Ashton) and permanent president (Herman Van Rompuy), there is a risk of the EU's Lisbon Treaty creating an even larger cacophony of European voices on the world stage, critics say.

As the European Policy Centre's Missiroli puts it, "with the exception of trade, where the EU 27 speaks with one voice and concentrates on their common interests, Europe risks being at the same time overrepresented and underperforming on the global stage".

If representation in international fora is considered, the EU is in fact rarely represented as a bloc on its own, with the significant exception of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom are present in the G20, where so far the EU has also been represented by the rotating EU presidency as the 20th member of the group.

In the UN Security Council, of the five veto-wielding permanent members, two are EU countries (France and the United Kingdom), which gives the Union more weight than its population or GDP would suggest.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also falls into this category, with China wielding roughly the same voting power as Italy. If the share of all member states is taken into consideration, the EU as a whole has double the influence of the US and a voting leverage ten times larger than that of China.

However, having many European representatives does not automatically mean better representation. This problem was particularly apparent at the December 2009 UN climate conference in Copenhagen.

As Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal group in the European Parliament, put it: "Copenhagen may well have had a different outcome had Europe been represented by a single person, instead of eight (the Danes who organised the summit, the representative of the European Commission, Frederik Reinfelt representing the Swedish Presidency, José Luis Zapatero representing the future Spanish Presidency, Catherine Ashton, Gordon Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel)."

This principle of foreign representation is expressed in Articles 220 and 221 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, but offers no indication of the form that this single representation could take. Lengthy negotiations must be conducted before the EEAS can assume such a leading role, which will require taking into account the political sensitivities of member states.

Bad press for Ashton?

As negotiations on the draft decision establishing the EEAS delved into the nitty-gritty, member states' concerns about 'losing out' were amplified and Catherine Ashton was increasingly criticised by national capitals.

German and French diplomats, for example, lamented the over-representation of British officials in the EEAS, where Britons feature prominently in the hierarchy. The crux of the problem appears to be her proximity to the UK Foreign Office, which some suggest is giving her instructions on setting up the new service.

This was just the last in a series of criticisms aimed at Ashton's management style and vision of her role. When she was appointed, her detractors were quick to point to her lack of experience, as she has never fought an election in her political life.

Her performance at a Parliament confirmation hearing was generally seen as acceptable but too vague on detail. She also suffered criticism for her quietness after a major earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010. And she did not stand up to Barroso's controversial decision to appoint De Almeida as head of the EU delegation in Washington.

Finally, her absence from a meeting of defence ministers in Majorca triggered vociferous reactions. French Defence Minister Hervé Morin in particular lashed out at Ashton for attending the inauguration of Ukraine's president on 25 February 2010 instead of chairing the EU meeting.

Positions

In her speech to the European Parliament on the creation of the European External Action Service on 7 July 2010, the EU's foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton called for the vote to herald "an historic step in the development of the European Union".

"Europe needs the External Action Service to build a stronger foreign policy. We need an integrated platform to project European values and interests around the world. It is time to give ourselves the means to realise our ambitions," she said, before acknowledging the amendments made to the service.

"First and foremost, the text makes clear that we are safeguarding the Community method in all areas where it exists today. The EEAS will co-operate closely with the Commission services as part of the EU system.

"Second, I know how important political accountability is for this House and I am confident that a good framework has been found through the political declaration on Political Accountability.

"Third, on financial accountability, appropriate solutions to issues such as sub-delegation of budgetary powers to Heads of Delegation" had been reached, she declared.  

"We have carefully balanced arrangements regarding development policy […] and have a balanced agreement on staff issues," she said. 

Furthermore, according to Ashton, "the EU can only have an impact if it is consistent in combining all instruments at its disposal".

The EEAS will therefore "support and strengthen EU development policy," she commented, amid fears of a clash in the service's competences with Commission DGs, "while also allowing to improve the overall coherence of the EU's external action".

"Political engagement and development efforts are not alternatives, but are complementary," she said. 

Speaking at a European Parliament confirmation hearing in January 2010, Ashton said: "My first priority will be to build the European External Action Service as an efficient and coherent service that will be the pride of the Union and the envy of the rest of the world".

"I will draw on the talent that already exists in the European Commission and the Council Secretariat, and welcome new colleagues from our 27 member states to join as well. We need a balanced service that adds value for all of the citizens of the European Union, and that can represent them to the outside world," she said.

Speaking to E!Sharp magazine, Ashton indicated that a group of experts was helping her to put together a proposal by the end of April "that will help me pull together the vision that we want to have to be able to present this to the Council, to be able to talk about this with the Parliament and to be able to deal with this in the Commission".

"The things that we are talking about are these: what is the sort of leadership that we need to have? What does Europe bring that is different to what member states have been bringing – sometimes for hundreds of years – in their relationships with third countries? How do we do it differently? What is the 21st century foreign policy for the EU?" Ashton said. 

In an interview with Belgian newspaper Le Soir, Javier Solana, former EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, said the construction of a political Europe needed to be accelerated.

"This is my call: either the European Union will adapt to the new rhythm – the Lisbon Treaty offers the instruments to achieve that – or it will lose its weight in the international arena. Member states need to help the Union to advance. I will say it clearly: it is a mirage for member states – even for the strongest – to believe that they can achieve something by themselves in today's world. It is better to act together."

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, former EU commissioner for external relations, underlines that with the EEAS, the EU is "building something new" and that there is "no model to follow" either at EU or national level.

"It will neither be intergovernmental nor purely based on the Community method, but we must ensure that the new system has a genuinely European approach inspired by and grounded in the strengths of Community policies. The key question for us all is what the EEAS should be able to deliver. This should be our objective. By bringing together the various actors in the field of external relations, we can ensure that our relations with the outside world are clear, coherent and driven by a single set of policy goals."

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, formerly Swedish minister for European integration, presented the major elements of the Swedish Presidency's report on the EEAS before the Parliament on 21 October 2009.

She stated that "with regard to the scope of the European External Action Service's activities, it is clear that we should establish geographical and thematic 'desk functions' with collective responsibility for tasks that are currently handled by the Commission and the Council Secretariat. The Commission will continue to have the main responsibility for matters relating to trade, aid and enlargement, even though it still remains to be established exactly where the dividing line between the Commission and the External Action Service is to go with regard to aid".

João Vale de Almeida, director-general at the European Commission's external relations department and future EU ambassador to Washington, speaking at a conference organised by 14 European think-tanks, stated that "for the Lisbon Treaty, it took us a nine-year pregnancy. For the EEAS, birth after three months will be very difficult".

The top official also said it was extremely important to design the EU's new diplomatic service in "the best possible way" and called on EU member countries to show "political will" to do so.

Speaking after the Parliament's vote on 7 July, German MEP Elmar Brok (European People's Party) spoke of his satisfaction at the concessions obtained as the European Parliament's rapporteur on the EEAS. "The EEAS will be fully subject to the European Parliament's budgetary and budgetary control rights, for both operational as well as administrative funds," Brok said. 

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Regarding the fact that 60% of its staff are European officials, Brok described this as "reflecting the Community method".

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The European Parliament can also exert political control over the EU's foreign and security policy. Parliament obtained the right to hear EU ambassadors after they are appointed and before they take up their post. In addition, should Ashton be unable to attend a plenary session herself, she will be replaced by a commissioner or national foreign minister. 

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By voting on its budget as well as changes in staff and financial regulations, Brok said "these co-decision powers show that the European Parliament has the last word over the EEAS".

Speaking about the future institutional position of the new service, Brok stated that "we [the AFET committee] are of the opinion that we do not need a new bureaucracy located in the middle between the Council and the Commission, which in the long term would consist of 6,000 to 8,000 people, to lead a life of its own and to become an independent kingdom outside our control".

"Let us assume that this service will be assigned to the Commission as an administrative body and let us recognise that it must have a sui generis character. It cannot be a normal office of the Commission, because in the area of foreign and security policy, the authority is divided between the Community and the Council. Therefore, we must ensure that there is a safeguard in place for the Council so that its rights can be expressed in a reasonable way and so that a loyal approach is taken."

Reacting to concessions obtained by the Parliament as to the service's composition, Brok expressed satisfaction: "The EEAS will be fully subject to the European Parliament's budgetary and budgetary control rights, for both operational as well as administrative funds," he said after leading the negotiations on behalf of the Parliament.

In addition, 60% of staff must be European officials. "This reflects the Community method", he underlined. 

Before the EEAS will be able to function fully, the European Parliament will have to vote on its budget as well as change the staff and financial regulations. "In exerting these co-decision powers, the European Parliament has the last word over the EEAS," Brok said. 

Whilst approving the EEAS's potential for ensuring a more coherent foreign policy and 'esprit de corps', German Green MEP Franziska Brantner and foreign affairs spokesperson (Greens) nonetheless lamented certain aspects of the service.

"Its weak points include the unclearly defined crisis management structures, the lack of permanent deputies for Ms Ashton and the limited scope of the EEAS's consular services to citizens", she said.

She blamed the French government for the service lacking a "truly integrated and comprehensive EU crisis management and peacebuilding structure" and welcomed development funding staying with Commissioner Pielbags’ DG, as in this way "the risk that development funds would be used as tools for Europe's external policies has diminished". 

Italian MEP Roberto Gualtieri, speaking for the Socialists and Democrats, claimed that the members of his group think "it crucial that the service be under the democratic control of Parliament and, to this end, we believe that its inclusion in the administrative structure of the Commission is the option that is most consistent with these objectives, which we really do have at heart".

British MEP Charles Tannock (European Conservatives and Reformists) said that Ashton had emerged out of the prolonged battle over the formulation of the EEAS with some credit. "The British Conservatives are reconciled and ready to engage with the service," he said, adding that national MPs would need to be involved in the scrutiny of the EEAS and EU defence missions.

UK Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff, president of the Union of European Federalists, claimed that "it is crucial for the Foreign Office in the UK to send their top people to the service rather than their discards. I agree fully that, for the sake of parliamentary scrutiny and financial control, the service ought to be attached to the Commission, for administrative and budgetary purposes. I have to say to the Council that it is not acceptable that the service is placed in the same class as the Economic and Social Committee or the Ombudsman as part of the Financial Regulation".

German MEP Helmut Scholz, speaking for the GUE/NGL group, noted that the "discussions about the establishment of the EEAS have been taking place for months behind closed doors. My group would like to repeat that the failure to include the European Parliament, the civil society organisations that have so far been affected, or even the national parliaments, gives rise to serious questions. This is particularly the case because a lively debate and open and transparent discussions about the institutional structures are of great importance for their legitimacy in future and for their public accountability".

"We oppose all efforts – and I say this unequivocally and categorically – to include political-military structures in the EEAS, regardless of whether this happens now or in the future, as has been recently proposed by France, among others, in the Council. The possible combination of military planning, secret service structures and general diplomatic and political tasks is not acceptable from our point of view," Scholz said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Paris on 29 January 2010, stated that "security in Europe must be indivisible. For too long, the public discourse around Europe's security has been fixed on geographical and political divides".

"Some have looked at the continent even now and seen Western and Eastern Europe, old and new Europe, NATO and non-NATO Europe, EU and non-EU Europe. The reality is that there are not many Europes; there is only one Europe. And it is a Europe that includes the United States as its partner. And it is a Europe that includes Russia. For in this century, security cannot be a zero-sum game. The security of all nations is intertwined. And we have a responsibility to work to enhance each other's security, in part by engaging with others on these new ideas and approaches," Clinton said. 

In a speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies on 26 October 2009, UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs David Miliband stated that "in all crisis zones, by doing away with the institutional divide between the Commission, which holds the purse strings, and the Council, which takes the political decisions, Lisbon promises to bring more coherence to our efforts".

"Working with other commissioners and the new High Representative, the External Action Service will encompass the full range of EU experts, helping us to see synergies, spot opportunities, and use the levers we have more creatively – from trade policy to aid budgets, soldiers to police, sanctions to electoral monitoring missions," Miliband said.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, speaking at a hearing in the Italian parliament on 16 December 2009, claimed that the creation of the EEAS is the first true credibility test for the institutional system as defined by the Treaty of Lisbon. "If by the end of April, or the beginning of May 2010, we do not have a clear scheme defining the functioning of the new European diplomacy, we will transmit a message of disillusion on an important theme."

Responding to Ashton's request to appoint ambassador Poul Skytte Christoffersen as special advisor to the EEAS, Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen said: "The European External Action Service will be essential in developing a more coherent and visible EU foreign policy. At the end of the day it is all about making sure that the EU speaks with one voice, notably towards global actors such as China and the United States."

"I am pleased that a Danish diplomat has been asked to take part in this task, which will lay the ground for the EU's foreign policy in the years to come. The request from Baroness Ashton is a sign of recognition for Ambassador Christoffersen's substantial competences and vast experience."

French UMP Senator Hubert Haenel, during a hearing with Robert Walter, president of the Western European Union, claimed that the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty poses a problem for the existence of the WEU, the assembly where European national parliaments can meet to discuss defence matters.

"We have to question in which way the parliaments of the 27 member states can meet periodically to debate the Common Security and Defence Policy," he said. 

Questioned by Lord Pearson of Rannoch about the possibility of closure of British embassies as a result of the creation of the EEAS, Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Lord Malloch-Brown replied that "the purpose of this external action service is not to replace national embassies. What I cannot give the noble lord, obviously, is an assurance that the current footprint of British national embassies around the world will remain exactly as it is for ever. Nor could I, in a sense hypothetically, tell him now what a minister standing at this Dispatch Box some years from now might claim as the reason for opening or closing specific embassies".

Lord Pearson of Rannoch, president of the UK Independence Party, responded by saying that "I am grateful for that answer, which tries to convince us that the octopus in Brussels is not putting a tentacle around yet another vital area of our national sovereignty". 

Writing for Italian on-line journal AffarInternazionali, Antonio Missiroli, director of studies at the European Policy Centre, claimed that a potential scenario for the creation of the EEAS would be to create a framework decision so as to define an inner nucleus of fonctionnaires seconded from Council, Commission and national ministries and then proceed to the nitty-gritty of inter-institutional bargaining over budgetary and staffing aspects.

Missiroli notes that the risk of pursuing this option would be to make the inefficiencies inherent in the present situation more resilient and hold the EEAS hostage to the European Parliament. He also notes how within the Commission, Ashton will have to create an inner circle of foreign policy coordination with Andris Piebalgs (development commissioner), Kristalina Georgieva (commissioner for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response) and Štefan Füle (commissioner for enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy).

Citing former External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten, Missiroli notes that possible conflicts will have to be ironed out since "everyone loves coordination, but no-one loves to be coordinated".

Asked by EurActiv to comment on the tight schedule for putting in place the EEAS, Piotr Maciej Kaczyński of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) said goals and timing were "extremely difficult".

"What Mr. Almeida alluded to is that in April there will be a draft report by the High Representative, in order to have the new law adopted as required by the Council, because it's a package of law proposals that is being negotiated right now. It is true that the Parliament is consulted only on the External Action Service, of its establishment. But it has full co-decision powers on staff regulations and on the budget of the new institution. So the Parliament is fully involved in the negotiation process," he said.

"There is the possibility that negotiations would drag on, but there is massive political pressure to meet deadlines. Political players want to have the EEAS fast for post-Copenhagen, for [the next UN-led conference on climate change in] Cancun. If some circles complain about the poor performance of the High Representative, then partially they are right: it is because there is no system in place," the CEPS analyst said.

"The biggest responsibility lies with member states. Not the Commission or Catherine Ashton. Because they appointed her and because all these difficult questions should have been solved between December 2007 [when the Lisbon Treaty was signed] and now. They could have done it behind closed doors. I understand that they haven't done it so that they would not be accused of prejudging the result of the second Irish referendum, but there is a cost to it," he added. 

Speaking to EurActiv, Adrian van den Hoven, director of international relations at BusinessEurope, said "SMEs need to be protected from difficult operating environments. Under the Lisbon Treaty, the EU can do that. If an SME is facing a problem, the Commission should step in to protect them".

"They need a Commission delegation to immediately go to the relevant government to help them overcome practical problems. That would require more resources for Commission embassies. One of the things we're considering is that the External Action Service could have a trade and enterprise unit, who could be problem-solvers for this kind of thing. If an SME has an IPR [intellectual property rights] problem in China, they could get advice from the EU embassy," van den Hoven said.

"The proposed structure with an omnipotent secretary-general and deputy secretary-generals does not provide the politically legitimised deputies that the High Rep needs in order to do her job properly," reads the statement, published just a couple of hours after Ashon unveiled her proposal on 25 March, and co-signed by Elmar Brok (EPP) and Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE), Hannes Swoboda (S&D) and Rebecca Harms and Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Greens/EFA).

"What is needed are political deputies that can engage on her behalf with both Parliament and partners in third countries," the leading MEPs state.

Lawmakers slammed Ashton's proposal for paying little attention to Parliament in terms of political accountability. They also criticised what they saw as the "artificial separation of part of the development competences between EEAS services and Commission services," calling it a "recipe for incoherence".

MEPs also expressed regret that despite much contact in recent weeks, the High Representative had chosen "not to take Parliament's views sufficiently into account".

"The proposal needs decisive changes, otherwise the European Parliament will not be able to carry forward the required modifications of the Staff and Financial Regulation," MEPs warn, threatening to reject the proposed finance and staffing aspects of the plan, which need the Parliament's clearance.

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek told EU leaders on 25 March that he "regrets" the proposal tabled by Ashton just hours before, which in his words does not take on board certain points which are crucial for Parliament.

"From its birth, this new structure will be the size of an entire European institution! Therefore it needs to be supervised properly," Buzek stated.

"In terms of staff, I strongly hope that a genuine geographical balance will be maintained," Buzek further stated.

Asked by EurActiv if by taking the side of East European countries insisting on a "geographical balance," he was setting a precedent for the next president to fight for the interests of Western EU members instead, Buzek insisted that a geographical balance is in the interests of all EU countries, and includes the South and the Scandinavian peninsula.

Buzek also insisted that the EU's future special representatives and ambassadors to key countries, such as Washington, Moscow and Beijing, would pass parliamentary hearings before taking their posts. Such a procedure is not envisaged by the Lisbon Treaty and has been rejected by Ashton's services.

Commenting on the decision proposed today the High Representative Catherine Ashton on the European External Action Service, UK Europe Minister Chris Bryant said "I welcome this proposal". 

"It takes us a step closer towards realising the vision we share with Cathy Ashton to establish an External Action Service that gives the EU a strong voice on foreign affairs. It is in Britain's interests on issues as diverse as Iran, China, Russia and the Middle East for Europe to speak with a clear, effective, united and disciplined voice. Europe should add value, not replicate what individual countries can and should do," Bryant said. 

"Ashton's desire to set the direction of how EU development money is spent is potentially bad news," said Elise Ford, head of Oxfam International's EU office. "Her proposal on the EU's first ever diplomatic service risks making poverty objectives hostage to foreign policy goals. It is now up to EU member states and the European Parliament to rectify Ashton's misconception about what effective development policy is," she said.

"Poor countries need EC Development Commissioner Piebalgs to make budgetary decisions on the basis of where needs and potential for impact are greatest, rather than being driven by the political and strategic objectives of the Union," she added.

A group of NGOs and think tanks including Bertelsmann Stiftung wrote an open letter criticising the state of debate on the EAS.  It stated that Brusselsturf wars were undermining the prospects for the EAS and outlined three areas to focus on, namely strategic policy coherence, staff expertise and addressing critical priorities.

"Keeping the policy areas in separate silos will make it impossible to have coherent policy either on the issues themselves or to shape relations with China, or the US, Russia, India or anybody else", it said.

"If the EAS is constituted only by diplomats, it will probably act as a diplomatic service, locked in the policies and the processes of institutions whose DNA belongs to 19th and 20th century. It will not be able to offer something that is distinctively different to meet the distinctive challenges of our age", the letter added. 

"The EAS has to be empowered – with formal mandates if necessary – to generate policy and lead action".

Writing for the EU-Russia CentreRory Watson heralded the creation of the service as a "major success" for Catherine Ashton.

"Since taking up her post, which she had not sought, seven months ago, Baroness Ashton has been the frequent target of widespread criticism. Such criticism has gradually become a thing of the past. BaronessAshton has had to fight major turf wars as national governments and the European Commission have jealously fought to defend their own foreign policy prerogatives, starkly highlighted the gap between officials and diplomats staunchly defending their own traditional practices", he wrote.

With its merged responsibilities, the EEAS will give the EU "a sharper, more distinctive presence on the world stage", he wrote.

In a study entitled ‘The European External Action Service: towards a common diplomacy?’, the Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies asks whether the creation of the EEAS can create opportunities to pull together the scattered and sometimes competing resources in the EU system of external relations.

"Embodying a rapprochement between the Communitarian and the CFSP logics", it says, “the service is expected to forge a EU common diplomatic culture, under the authority of the HR. Yet, risks of cacophony and overlaps between the Commission services, between HR Ashton and other commissioners, between Presidents Barroso and Van Rompuy", should not be underestimated according to the study.

"The functioning of the Service will probably remain determined by an invisible yet genuine distinction between two cultures", the study believes. "A Communitarian-like culture inherited from DG Relex (which will be numerically dominant in the EEAS, and which will most likely have the greatest influence on the geographic and thematic DGs, and on delegations); and a political culture inherited from the Council policy unit and crisis management structures, deemed to retain a certain autonomy within the Service. In this respect, the draft decision suggests that the EEAS might well internalise past bureaucratic conflicts, rather than do away with them".

Timeline

  • 1 Nov. 1993: Maastricht Treaty defines Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) as second pillar of the EU.
  • 1 May 1999: Amsterdam Treaty creates office of High Representative for CFSP.
  • 18 Oct. 1999: Javier Solana designated first High Representative (HR).
  • 23 Oct. 2009: EU summit approves European External Action Service as EU's new diplomatic corps under Lisbon Treaty.
  • 1 Dec. 2009: Lisbon Treaty enters into force. Catherine Ashton becomes Union's first High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
  • 26 Apr. 2010: EU foreign ministers reach political agreement on Ashton's proposal for setting up EEAS.
  • 21 June 2010: Spanish EU Presidency, European Commission and European Parliament reach compromise on organisation and operation of the service.
  • 7 July 2010: Parliament approves establishment of EEAS.
  • 26 July 2010: EU foreign ministers give final approval to EEAS.
  • 15 Sep. 2010: Ashton appoints first 28 ambassadors.
  • 20 Oct. 2010: Parliament approves staffing, finances and 2010 budget for EEAS.
  • 29 Oct. 2010: Ashton appoints top management team.
  • 1 Dec. 2010: EEAS formally begins work.
  • 2012: First 'status report' on the service.
  • 1 July 2013: EEAS positions to be opened to officials from other EU institutions, including the Parliament.
  • 2014: Full review of EEAS, with possibility to amend the 2010 agreement.