The European Parliament is trying to influence the ongoing preparations for the establishment of a 'European External Action Service' (EEAS), to be set up jointly between the EU Council of Ministers and the Commission after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. But critics say this major novelty in the EU architecture is about to be introduced in almost complete secrecy.
Establishing the EU diplomatic service with missions in 125 countries will be on the menu of the Brussels EU summit on June 19-20, provided the referendum in Ireland on June 12 "goes well", diplomats said.
The common external service will not replace bilateral diplomacy, but some politicians fear the initiative may give ammunition to those who claim the Lisbon Treaty is transforming the EU into a superstate.
On 6 May, the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee put forward a draft report on the Common Foreign and Security Policy, which is intended to constitute MEPs' wish-list vis-à-vis the Council and the Commission on establishing EEAS.
The report points out that the future office of High Representative/Vice-President of the Commission will derive its legitimacy directly from the European Parliament. It also stresses the need for "transparency and democratic input" into the process of setting up the planned European External Action Service, and calls for a mechanism to be set up to provide confidential information to select Foreign Affairs Committee Members.
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and author of the draft report, told EurActiv that "there is work going on, but not much has been publicly stated".
"The Treaty is not very specific on the issue. So far when we ask the questions we do not get detailed information. Our feeling is that although the Treaty is not yet ratified, the work is ongoing, but the proposals will be made public when the whole thing is ripe," Saryusz-Wolsky added.
He listed as open questions the interaction between the Council, the Commission and the member state staff, the role of the European Parliament, the formal title of the head of the missions and the formal title of the delegations. As British Conservative MEP Charles Tannock recently stated, "Britain would not accept full diplomatic trappings for the EU".
Parliament seeking more democratic legitimacy
"The key expectation of the Parliament is that it has more to say on that and Parliament can add additional democratic legitimacy from taking positions. And we expect to be involved in shaping these decisions ex ante, and not only post factum," Saryusz-Wolsky said.
The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee also said MEPs needed more clarity on where the EEAS and the foreign policy chief will be situated. Three options are possible, he says: In the Council, the Commission, or "in between", in separate premises.
According to Saryusz-Wolski, there is also a consensus in Parliament to establish another high job – the high official for foreign policy on energy security. This new office should be part of of the future "Foreign Minister's office", the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee said.
French MEP Alain Lamassoure told EurActiv that he personally has two recommendations concerning the EEAS. First, it should be a unified service, and overlap between the Council and the Commission should be avoided. Today, there is too much duplication between the Commission's representations and the missions of the Council, Lamassoure explained (in Kosovo there are currently five different EU missions, for example).
His second recommendation is that each diplomatic service should send its best diplomats to the new external action service. "Otherwise it will not be a European diplomacy, it will be a 28th diplomacy to be added to the existing 27," Lamassoure stated.
The French MP does not expect these changes to cause a blow to bilateral diplomacy. A distinction should be made between the diplomatic missions of the EU countries outside the EU and inside the Union, he argued. Even large EU countries are a long way from having embassies everywhere, therefore regrouping resources and better co-ordinating and redistributing roles is in Europe's interest, he insisted.
Controversially, Lamassoure calls for the abandonment of the terms 'Embassies' and 'Ambassadors' within EU territory.
"Because the relations between EU countries are not diplomatic relations - this is work done in common within the EU - let's also re-convert the consulates in the EU countries for the better enforcement of the rights of the European citizens living in another EU country," Lamassoure advocated.
Recently Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner admitted that "indeed none of us yet know how exactly this (EEAS) will work out in practice".
She said 2009 will be a "transitional year, with the entry into force of the new Treaty and the new institutional set-up that entails, a new Commission and European Parliament taking office and the Treaty's requirement that the new High Representative / Vice-President should finalise the proposals for the functioning of the External Action Service, which will then need to be agreed by the Commission as a whole, followed by the European Parliament and member states".
The final proposals for EEAS will only emerge in 2010, Ferrero-Waldner added.
Slovenian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmitrij Rupel, whose country currently holds the EU Council presidency, said: "The European External Action Service is an important novelty of the new Treaty. It will be established by the Council's decision on the proposal of the High Representative, after consulting Parliament and obtaining the Commission's approval. Declaration 15 to the Lisbon Treaty stipulates that preparatory work for the European External Action Service shall start after the Treaty is signed. In accordance with the December European Council conclusions, the Slovenian Presidency will take on this job as part of comprehensive technical preparations which are necessary to ensure full and efficient functioning of the Treaty from the date of its entry into force. We are completely aware of the European Parliament's interest in this respect and of your request to be involved in the preparatory work. To this end, the Presidency, together with the General Secretariat of the Council, will make sure that the associates of the European Parliament's President will be kept up-to-date."
Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Karel de Gucht gave his backing to the EEAS: "Personally, I think this External Action Service needs to be deployed as soon as possible. A full deployment across the globe - in a sort of "big bang" scenario - seems neither feasible nor desirable. But it does seem necessary to swiftly start its early deployment at its central office in Brussels. By doing so we will create a useful foundation and a basis for a proper functional start of this new institutional creation also with the main international organizations and bilateral partners. I also believe it should be the ambition to make the External Action Service a service provider for the Commission, the High Representative and the President of the European Council. Thus, the latter will only need a small personal secretariat and the President's Office will receive a proper anchoring in the External Action Service."
Finnish Secretary of State Pertti Torstila commented recently: "Finland aims to send its "brightest and best" officials to the European External Action Service, to serve on a temporary basis in tasks which fit with our interests. Other member states will do likewise, I'd presume. Based on our current very rough estimations Finland would send approximately 15 to 25 officials during the first five years to the EEAS and the EU Delegations taken together. We're currently preparing our positions, consulting with other member states, the Secretariat and the Commission, and we will play a proactive role in the process."
Elmar Brok, a leading MEP from the centre-right EPP-ED group in Parliament, said: "To avoid creating a huge new bureaucracy, the proposal in the Constitution is that the Commission's 120-plus delegations all over the world would be integrated into the EEAS, with staff seconded from member states' national diplomatic services. Knitting together the EEAS and existing EU offices would have a double effect, as the use of diplomatic staff from member states avoids possible conflicts between national and EU interests, and is also an efficient use of personnel that avoids wasting human and financial resources."
- 12 June: Referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland
- 19-20 June: European Council in Brussels
- June: European Parliament report to be voted in plenary