EEAS to be born on Lisbon Treaty anniversary

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In the presence of a smiling Catherine Ashton, the European Parliament yesterday (20 October) approved by an overwhelming majority the last three legislative texts required to launch the European External Action Service (EEAS) on 1 December 2010, the day of the first anniversary of the Lisbon Treaty.

The Parliament in Strasbourg passed the Staff Regulation, the Financial Regulation and the EEAS 2010 budget, clearing the way for High Representative Catherine Ashton to appoint the senior managerial team of the new EU diplomatic service.

The appointment of the dozen high officials is expected to facilitate the selection of candidates for some 80 middle-management positions, which are also up for grabs in a first wave of recruitment.

However, the selection process so far has left a bitter after-taste, with many capitals strongly pushing for their candidates in the hope of gaining influence in the new body from the first day. When fully operational, the EEAS is expected to provide attractive employment to some 6,000 people worldwide.

The ambassador of a member country, who asked not to be named, told EURACTIV the EEAS was becoming "the home of the high-flying protégés of governments in power".

National quota compromise

The EEAS staffing regulation was approved by 513 votes to 51 with 98 abstentions. The budget rules were adopted by 578 votes to 39 with 28 abstentions. MEPs also modified the 2010 budget and adopted its new version by 608 votes to 41, with 11 abstentions.

In particular, the staffing rules had been a subject of controversy, in particular over MEPs' insistence on national or geographic quotas, to make up for the under-representation of the new member states of Eastern Europe.

On behalf of the Parliament, German MEP Bernhard Rapkay (Socialists & Democrats) negotiated a compromise which stops short of mentioning quotas, but speaks of an "appropriate and meaningful presence of nationals from all the member states".

In budgetary terms, the EEAS will be treated as an EU institution, that is, it will have its own section in the EU budget like other institutions. The budget will require a discharge from the European Parliament.  The assembly will thus exercise its full budgetary and control powers vis-à-vis the EEAS. The Commission will remain in charge of the service's operational budget.

Transparency provisions adopted state that before taking up their duties, heads of delegation "must complete specific training courses" to prepare for their budget responsibilities. The heads of delegation should "fully cooperate" with Parliament, provide necessary information and may be requested to attend committee meetings.

Until 30 June 2013, the EEAS will recruit officials from the Council's General Secretariat, the Commission or national diplomatic services. From 1 July 2013, access to EEAS posts should be opened up to officials from other EU institutions, such as the European Parliament. When the EEAS reaches its full capacity, EU officials should represent at least 60% of staff at administrator level and at least one third of all EEAS staff should come from national diplomatic services.

Ashton is also expected to find a building to host EEAS. The newly-built AXA building on Rond-Point Schuman is reportedly her first choice.

After the vote in plenary, MEP Franziska Brantner, foreign affairs co-spokesperson for the Greens/EFA group (Germany), said:

"We welcome that key Green concerns - such as on gender balance and common training to create an 'esprit de corps' - have been largely addressed, and that the Parliament will have greater democratic scrutiny on the functioning of the EEAS, notably through the introduction of individual budget lines for the EU's major overseas operations. The EP also succeeded in safeguarding the Community method and, thanks to Green pressure, development priorities."

"Clearly, the jury is still out on whether the External Action Service will actually live up to its potential and provide real added-value. If it is to be of value, it must be more than just a 28th European foreign ministry. High representative Ashton must now act to ensure that the EEAS lives up to expectations, this includes creating strong coordination mechanisms in the EEAS to ensure policy coherence."

"There are clearly continuing concerns that the EEAS will be a body with far too many chiefs, and the announcement of dozens of new deputy-ambassadorial posts by Ms Ashton only reinforces these concerns. What Europe needs are crisis management and mediation experts rather than an unwieldy service of high-salaried diplomats," Brantner concluded.

The S&D Group gave its thumbs up to the EEAS with the following statements:

Italian MEP Roberto Gualtieri (S&D) said: "Thanks to the European Parliament and to the S&D group, Europe will have a European External Action Service (EEAS) [that is] stronger, more communitarian and subject to a greater democratic scrutiny, which will be exerted by the Parliament strictly but responsibly, to help Catherine Ashton in her effort to strengthen the EU's foreign policy."

"We strongly believe that merit and competence should be determining factors in the selection of the staff for this service. At the same time the recruitment procedure will have to assure geographic and gender balance," he said.  

German MEP Bernhard Rapkay (S&D) said: "We want the European external action service to be efficient and powerful and to be able to work for the Community interest and with the Community method, and not work for the national interest. We must guarantee the loyalty of the personnel of the external action service as the reinforcing of the Community method is primordial."

The leftist GUE/NGL group issued a critical statement, with Spanish MEP Willy Meyer (GUE/NGL) telling EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton that he was "unconvinced" by the militarised, non-transparent and uncontrollable structure of the EEAS today in the European Parliament.

"Our group cannot support this as the structure doesn't convince us. If troops are going to be sent abroad then the EP should have full powers of scrutiny; this hasn't been achieved," he said. On behalf of the group, Meyer also expressed his solidarity with French workers on strike today.

Also speaking on the issue, MEP Ji?í Maštálka (Czech Republic; GUE/NGL) said that the new service would still mean that the EU could sometimes be left without a foreign policy on key issues and cited problems with the composition and geographic balance of the diplomatic corps.

Parliament President Jerzy Buzek (European People's Party; Poland) stated: "I am looking forward to the launching of the European Diplomatic Service on 1 December 2010, one year after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty."

"Drawing on the experience of all the EU's member states, the service has the chance to become a highly effective instrument for promoting European interests and values."

"European identity has to be the cornerstone of the European External Action Service. Europe is stronger in its dealings with other powers when it speaks with a single, unified voice."

"We must continue to contribute to world stability and promote the respect for fundamental rights and freedoms. This is at the core of the European model and it can be as well a model for others," Buzek. 

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

The setting up of the EEAS has also triggered nervous reactions from the EU institutions. In particular, the European Parliament has shown its muscle and has managed to speak with one voice in calling for a more communitarian approach.

Last July, EU foreign ministers gave their final approval to the EEAS, paving the way for the diplomatic corps "to come into being" by December 2010. Since then, attention had shifted to budgetary issues and the battle to assign top positions.

  • 25 Oct.: Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg to give the final approval in setting up EEAS.
  • 1 Dec.: EEAS to be officially launched.

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