Institutions wrestle over EU’s first ‘foreign ministry’

As the Swedish EU Presidency prepares to test the ground for the new ‘European External Action Service’ (EEAS) at the October EU summit next week, the European Parliament rushed to adopt a resolution today (22 October), marking its territory on the future EU diplomatic corps.

Speaking during the Parliament plenary session on Wednesday, Swedish European Affairs Minister Cecilia Malmström said the presidency will present a report on the preparations to implement the Lisbon Treaty at the EU summit on 29-30 October. 

“In this report there will be guidance on how the service around the High Representative for Foreign Affairs will function,” Malmström said. 

The Swedish Presidency sees the upcoming ‘European External Action Service’ (EEAS)’ as separate from the Council of Ministers and the European Commission. 

But the Parliament sees the new service as being much closer to the Commission in order to maintain oversight over its activities and budget. The EU assembly’s rapporteur, German MEP Elmar Brok (EPP), stressed that the decision to set up the EEAS cannot be taken without the agreement of the Commission. He also called for the Parliament to be involved in the “consensual plan for setting up of the EEAS”. 

“The EAS should […] be incorporated into the Commission’s administrative structure,” the resolution reads. “It should therefore neither be linked to the Council of Ministers nor be a fully autonomous organisation. The European Parliament should have the right to hear, if necessary, the High Representative of the EU for External Affairs as well as the EU ambassadors.” 

At today’s vote in Stasbourg, 424 MEPs voted in favour of linking the new service to the Commission on budgetary and administrative matters, with only 94 voting against.

According to the adopted report, it is not advisable to re-group several existing Commission directorates-general (DGs) under the EEAS, particularly in fields in which the Commission has executive powers. It lists the DGs for trade, enlargement and development, which according to Parliament should stay independent from the new body. 

Enlargement to remain outside external service? 

These views appear to be in harmony with the Commission’s projections. 

Speaking in Brussels today (22 October) at the European Policy Centre (EPC), Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said enlargement was one of the most powerful tools of the EU’s common foreign and security policy (CSFP) and a “natural component” of the new foreign policy configuration under the Lisbon Treaty. 

As enlargement is not a “classical” foreign policy or diplomacy, he said it was “reasonable to assume” that the Commission’s enlargement directorate will remain separate from the EEAS. 

However, he said the EEAS should have some responsibility for EU applicant countries such as the Western Balkans and Turkey. 

“In fact, this is a chance for us to better capitalise on our strategic relations with Turkey, to advance our common goals in foreign policy,” Rehn said. 

But Rehn explained he was not suggesting that the EEAS offices be located at equal distance from the Commission and the Council. 

“We cannot put the External Action Service in the middle of the Rue de la Loi [which separates the Commission’s Berlaymont building and the Council’s Justus Lipsius headquarters]. We have to be a bit more creative and reasonable,” he said amid laughter. 

“Instead, we must strive for maximal synergy for effectively pooling our respective political leverages and using to the full the wide range of policy instruments at our disposal. The External Action Service should be made the engine of our smart power,” said Rehn. 

‘Personal chemistry’

The enlargement commissioner also insisted that “personal chemistry” would “absolutely essential” between the holders of the three top jobs – the already re-elected Commission President José Manuel Barroso, the future permanent Council president and the double-hatted High Representative for Foreign Policy, who will also be vice-president of the Commission in charge of external relations. 

Citing his experience as a semi-professional football player, he said that a good football team “cannot have three centre-forwards”. 

“To score and win, we need a centre, an astute playmaker, but also a smooth winger,” he said. 

Rehn was challenged by the audience to say whether his remarks did not in fact represent a public pitch for the EEAS top job. Although he was humble in his answer, several people attending commented that Rehn, who is known to be on excellent terms with “astute playmaker” Barroso, is in fact perfectly suited to the position of “smooth winger”. 

UK Tory MEP Ashley Fox,  Conservative spokesman for constitutional affairs in the European Parliament, warned that the EU was "already steaming ahead with the creation of a foreign ministry, EU embassies and a college for training EU diplomats, even before the Lisbon Treaty has been ratified in all 27 member states". 

"The EU clearly has ambitions to develop its own foreign policy and the creation of a de facto foreign ministry is a step too far. To have a diplomatic corps answering to MEPs rather than national governments would be detrimental to Britain's interests," Fox stated. 

He further warned that "a dedicated diplomatic college to train an army of EU diplomats is a total unnecessary waste of taxpayers' money". 

The British MEP also stressed that the decision to go ahead with EEAS demonstrated "lack of respect for constitutional processes of the Czech Republic by pre-empting its ratification of the Lisbon Treaty". 

Estonian MEP Indrek Tarand, Greens/EFA shadow rapporteur and German MEP Franziska Brantner, Greens/EFA  foreign affairs spokesperson, commented: 

"We welcome the fact that work on the new External Action Service has started and that the European Parliament was able to adopt a position at this early stage. However, with the adoption of the Brok Report, the Parliament has only taken a position on structures. It has omitted what is most important: a concept for new and comprehensive foreign policy. Regarding the complex challenges for external action, such as climate change and failed states, we urgently need a new and integrated concept for policymaking." 

"Unfortunately our amendments on the creation of a peace-building directorate, gender equality with regards to new top jobs and the creation of a comprehensive External Action Academy have been voted down. We still hope that the Council will appoint a woman as High Representative/Vice-President of the Commission," they concluded. 

Opinion polls have repeatedly shown high levels of public support for the EU to play a stronger role and speak with one voice on the international stage. 

The proposal to establish a 'European External Action Service' (EEAS) to support the future 'High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs' was thus one of the least contentious aspects of the Constitutional Treaty and the subsequent Lisbon Treaty. 

The Lisbon Treaty is quite vague on specifics of the EEAS. In particular, the role of the European Parliament is not well defined. This is why turf wars had been expected, between the EU institutions and the pillars of the Union, and the EU and its member states (EURACTIV 21/05/09). 

Before the second, successful Irish referendum on the treaty, discrete preparations for the service were already underway in the Council and the European Commission, with the Parliament trying to assess its influence (EURACTIV 13/05/08). 

The common external service would not replace bilateral diplomacy, but some politicians nevertheless fear the initiative may give ammunition to those who claim the Lisbon Treaty is transforming the EU into a superstate. 

Moves to establish the EEAS were officially put on hold after the Irish rejected the Lisbon Treaty in June 2008 (EURACTIV 11/07/09). But discreet preparations have continued in the hope of the treaty's final approval. 

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