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.