Parliament mellows on EU diplomatic service

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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.

Substitution

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.

External co-operation

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).

Headquarters

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.

Basic organisation

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.

Catherine Ashton, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, praised the "constructive engagement of the Parliament and its negotiators whose work has improved the text for the EEAS decision in many ways".

"We have a good deal on the table. I'm submitting formally to the records of this meeting the two declarations on the political accountability and on the basic organisation of the service," she told MEPs.

Some had doubted the legal value of the declarations, which form part of the Madrid agreement.

German MEP Elmar Brok (European People's Party) said that the EEAS will allow the EU to become "a global player instead of a payer" on the international stage.

He lauded the European Parliament for safeguarding its powers and defending the Community method. "We don't want to drive the EU's foreign policy but we want to monitor it and want sensible budgetary decisions to be made," he stated.

Belgian MEP Guy Verhostadt (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), declaring that "the service has now been established," called on EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton to avoid an intergovernmental EEAS.

"Develop the service as a Community institution. It is only where the Community method is applied that we have had successes such as the internal market," he said.

British MEP Charles Tannock (European Conservatives and Reformists) said that Ashton had emerged out of the prolonged battle over the formulation of the EEAS with some credit. "The British Conservatives are reconciled and ready to engage with the service," he said, adding that national MPs would need to be involved in the scrutiny of the EEAS and EU defence missions.

Speaking for the Socialists & Democrats, Austrian MEP Hannes Swoboda said that the French government "should withdraw its red lines as we have put together a very good draft that our group fully supports," while Italian MEP Mario Mauro (EPP) referred to the "ambiguous positions" of certain governments and criticised the current visit of Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos to Cuba.

Austrian MEP Ulrike Lunacek (Greens/EFA) raised the issue of the Common Security and Defence Policy structures within the EEAS, which are set to come under the direct responsibility of the High Representative. "If you move away from what the member states want, you will have the support of this House", she told Catherine Ashton, who replied that "full coordination between all the services of the EEAS, in particular between the CSDP structures and the other relevant services of the EEAS, will be ensured".

Spanish MEP Willy Meyer (GUE/NGL) stated that his group would not vote in favour of the report on Thursday (8 July). He said that "it is a mistake to link the EEAS to military structures" and is concerned about the lack of prominence given to development policy.

The Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force on 1 December 2009, equips the European Union with a 'European External Action Service' (EEAS): a diplomatic corps with the objective of developing a genuinely European foreign policy.

The December 2009 European summit asked Catherine Ashton, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, to present a proposal on the organisation and functioning of the EEAS, with a view to its adoption by the end of April 2010.

On 26 April EU ministers reached "political agreement" on the EEAS (EURACTIV 27/04/10), but the European Parliament delivered a clear message that it disliked the proposal (EURACTIV 11/06/10).

The stand-off lasted until 21 June, when the Spanish EU Presidency reached a compromise in Madrid regarding the organisation and operation of the EEAS (EURACTIV 22/06/10).

  • After the summer recess, changes to the Financial Regulation, the Staff Regulation and the 2010 budget, on which Parliament has joint decision-making powers with Council, will be voted upon.
  • A month after the entry into force of the EEAS decision, Catherine Ashton is to present to the European Commission an estimate of EEAS revenue and expenditure, with a view to drafting an amending budget.

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