EU auditors slam Ashton’s office for lack of efficiency

Catherine Ashton. Somalia, 2012. [EEAS/Flickr]

A new report by the European Court of Auditors examining the European External Action Service has found that the institution has been “inadequately prepared”, lacks resources and its tasks are “vaguely defined”.

Established in 2009 by the Lisbon Treaty, the (EEAS) debuted in 2011 under the authority of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Lady Catherine Ashton, whose mandate is winding up. The institution is a merger of different external affairs services from the Council and the Commission, comprising 140 delegations.

For the European Court of Auditors, the new service’s tasks are not clearly defined enough, and it lacks resources and organisational structure, which has undermined its efficiency, the report notes.

The external action service was created in times of financial constraints, and under conditions of uncertainty regarding the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. The auditors criticised it for having started working with “little preparatory work” and without clearly stated objectives.

The EEAS’s reply to these remarks was not very encouraging.

“The EEAS takes note of the Court's recommendation. However the EEAS considers that the requirements of this recommendation have already been satisfied and recommendations proposed in the EEAS Review,” EEAS spokesperson Michael Mann told EurActiv.

Other challenges facing the EEAS are financial.

Being set up in times of budgetary austerity, the EEAS was not allocated sufficient resources, therefore creating a more difficult start-up environment, the auditors note.

“Establishing a new institution is inherently costly, even more so when the resulting body has to carry out new tasks. Indeed, the Council decided it without a resource assessment that should have taken into account […] the new demands (…)”

Moreover, recruitment procedures are "too complicated, too lengthy and too much costly," Szabolcs Fazakas from the ECA said.

The audit established that the External Action Aervice should review its recruitment procedures as well as introduce a new financial framework for the management of EU delegations to reduce complexity and rigidity.

Special representatives

The special representatives of the European Union (EUSRs) abroad are another great area of concern to the auditors.

EU special representatives used to be appointed by the Council and were instrumental in coordinating foreign policy between Council and Commission. With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the high representative only can appoint EUSRs.

However, the auditors have found that EUSRs are not sufficiently integrated in the EEAS.

“The EU special representatives are only integrated into the EEAS structure when double-hatted as heads of delegation (4 out of the 11, all located outside the EU). In the absence of clear procedures, it is left to the discretion of the individual special representatives to decide how to manage coordination with the relevant EEAS departments, thus increasing the risk that their actions are inconsistent with other EU actions. Only half of the surveyed heads of delegation considered that they were adequately informed about the activities of special representatives,” the report notes.



Michael Mann, spokesperson of the EU Hight Representative, Catherine Ashton wrote: 

"Overall, the Court’s assessment is useful and its main recommendations correspond with what we have already identified in last year’s EEAS Review. The final result is balanced and the Court acknowledges thework of the EEAS, its achievements as well as the challenges it has faced."


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mike's picture

When creating EEAS, Commission staff rewarded themselves with fat-paid jobs.

A European entrepreneur who wants to export to the USA only needs to contact one administration.

An American entrepreneur who wants to export to say, Belgium, has to contact the EU, Belgian, Flemish (and Benelux?) administrations.

While the EU tax payers keep funding this duplication of resources, EAAS enjoys lavish pay and decadent holiday schemes -prior to the last staff reform they could take up to a (theoretical) maximum of 83 days/year. A report drawn by a MEP literally states "offices that are empty for many months a year."

"Fuck the EU," was a bit bold, but it expressed the frustration other administrations have with Eurocrat efficiency.

Emanuele's picture

Ehm... Mike... tell me: who is leading EEAS?
Maybe a representative of one of the (so pictured) lazy, incompetent, tax-money wasting, South European Countries?
There is just ONE country constantly bragging about EU institutions presumed inefficiency. After this report, I don't see on what moral ground they continue their attacks.

mike's picture

The EU Auditors slammed EAAS. Actually, a recent survey by EU Auditor S. Fazakas reveals that Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the UK would prefer EU consulates to join.

Anno 2014, the North-South divide mainly exists in people’s minds, not in reality. Greece needed a rescuing, but so did Ireland. Corruption may be rampant in Italy, but it is no less in Belgium. Etcetera.

What I was trying to say is: either we close national diplomatic posts and replace them with an EU one or we continue running national diplomatic posts and do not add an EU diplomatic post on top of them.
For example, a Belgian taxpayer now pays rather expensive EU diplomats (and infrastructure) as well as their Belgian, Flemish/Walloon, and Benelux peers. The same goes for people living in Catalonia, Lombardy, Bavaria… I cannot believe this system to be effective or efficient.

The EU Auditors point out that EAAS has twice the normal number of highly-paid officials. EAAS has directorates with staff as little as 22, and director-generals who oversee 44 staff members.
In Barbados for example, EAAS employs 44 diplomats. EAAS used to run an office on an archipelago in the South Pacific. Since 1984, the EU has spent £80 million on projects such as teaching the archipelago’s inhabitants to play cricket. The post’s director was on a £150,000 a year package. Less than 1,500 miles further, in Papua New Guinea, EAAS is running another post.