The European External Action Service (EEAS) is to become official after the summer recess and start recruiting in autumn, it became clear after a key European Parliament committee gave its green light yesterday (6 July) to the EU's diplomatic service.
Two weeks after the Madrid deal on the EEAS was struck (see 'Background'), recommendations on its organisation and working methods, set out in a text by Elmar Brok (European People's Party, Germany) were approved by the Parliament's foreign affairs committee.
Under the most optimistic scenario, the European Parliament could have given its final blessing to the EEAS at its current plenary session, which ends on Thursday. However, as leading MEPs explained, more time proved to be needed for the political groups to digest the Madrid compromise.
Parliament's negotiators Elmar Brok, Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, Belgium) and Roberto Gualtieri (S&D, Italy) said that on the whole, Parliament's requests had been fulfilled.
The Parliament's services published a brief summing up the major decisions on the EEAS, where the MEPs had impacted upon the consultation process.
MEPs who were reluctant to see civil servants (such as the executive secretary-general) deputise for Lady Ashton when briefing Parliament have won an undertaking that, where necessary, she will be replaced either by the EU commissioners for enlargement, development or humanitarian aid or by the foreign affairs minister of the country holding the EU presidency for Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) issues.
Control over EU external co-operation programmes (development and neighbourhood policies) will remain the responsibility of the European Commission, contrary to Ashton's original proposal, which would have given more power to the EEAS.
Proposals for changes in development policy (European Development Fund and Development Co-operation Instrument) will be prepared jointly by the EEAS and the Commission, under the commissioner's responsibility, and then jointly submitted for a decision by the EU executive.
EEAS: At least 60% EU staff
MEPs have also obtained an undertaking that at least 60% of EEAS staff will be made up of permanent EU officials. This will guarantee the diplomatic service's Community identity. Officials from national diplomatic services – to constitute one third of the staff when the service has reached its full capacity – will be temporary agents for a duration of up to eight years with a possible extension of two years.
Recruitment will be "based on merit whilst ensuring adequate geographical and gender balance," Brok's report says. Measures to correct possible "imbalances" could be taken during the 2013 review of the service.
On 1 January 2011, a total of 1,525 civil servants from the Commission and the Council's General Secretariat will be transferred to the EEAS. 100 new posts have been created. Recourse to seconded national experts will be limited to these experts, who will not be counted as staff from member states (one third of the total).
The EEAS will have its headquarters in Brussels and will be made up of a central administration and the 136 former Commission delegations.
The central administration will be organised in directorates-general comprising geographic desks covering all countries and regions of the world, as well as multilateral desks.
Political and budgetary accountability
Before taking up their posts, EU Special Representatives and Heads of Delegations to countries and organisations which Parliament considers "strategically important" will appear before the foreign affairs committee.
The HR will also seek Parliament's views on key CFSP policy options and MEPs holding institutional roles will have access to confidential documents.
The service's political and budgetary accountability to Parliament is guaranteed, with full budget discharge rights over the service.
The operational budget will be the Commission's responsibility. Parliament will receive from the Commission a document clearly accounting for the external action parts of the Commission budget, including the establishment plans of the Union's delegations, as well as the external action expenditure per country and per mission. The EEAS administrative budget will be in a new section X "European External Action Service".
The foreign affairs committee and the budgets committee bureaus will have stronger scrutiny rights over CFSP missions financed out of the EU budget.
The statement on basic organisation stipulates that there will a human rights structure at headquarters level and locally in the delegations as well as a department assisting the HR in her relations with Parliament. On crisis management and peace-building, the statement says that CSDP structures will be part of the EEAS.