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