Despite opposition from the European Parliament, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton unveiled on 25 March a proposal that puts a French-style secretary-general and two deputies at the centre of the EU's future diplomatic service.
Ashton's 12-page proposal for establishing the European External Action Service (EEAS) ignored the Parliament, which had rejected the 'French-style' set up in which a secretary-general would hold enormous power (EURACTIV 24/03/10).
If approved, the secretary-general will run the European External Action Service web "like a spider," MEPs warned.
"The EEAS shall be managed by a secretary-general who will operate under the authority of the High Representative [Catherine Ashton]," reads the proposal. "The secretary-general shall take all measures necessary to ensure the smooth functioning of the EEAS, including its administrative and budgetary management," it goes on.
As reported earlier by EURACTIV, Ashton's proposal appeared vague and did not contain an organisational chart.
Just a couple of hours after Ashton had unveiled her blueprint, a cross-party group of MEPs issued a statement saying the Parliament found the proposal unacceptable.
"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, 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".
Indeed, Ashton's blueprint envisages that the EU development commissioner, who is in charge of a multi-billion budget, and his colleague responsible for neighbourhood policy, will work in parallel.
"With regard to the European Development Fund and the Development Cooperation Instrument, any proposals […] shall be prepared by the relevant services in the EEAS and in the Commission under the direct supervision and guidance of the commissioner responsible for development policy and then jointly submitted with the High Representative for decision by the Commission," Ashton's proposal reads.
A similar paragraph was added regarding neigbourhood policy.
In recent statements, MEPs had strongly cautioned against the Commission services and the EEAS working in parallel instead of merging.
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.