Stop turf wars over EEAS, top diplomats plead

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The European Union must quickly push ahead with forming its own diplomatic service or it risks falling behind the likes of China and India in the world order, top diplomats warned yesterday (26 April) after EU ministers reached "political agreement" on European External Action Service (EEAS), which still awaits MEPs' green light.

"The Council reached a political orientation on a draft decision on the establishment of the European External Action Service, as provided for under the Treaty of Lisbon, on the basis of the proposal presented by High Representative Catherine Ashton on 25 March. Today's agreement provides a basis for consulting the European Parliament," reads the official communiqué of the foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg.

"I am very pleased that the [EU] Council has reached a political agreement based on my proposal," said EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton.

It remains unclear if and how Parliament will try to impact upon the Council's decision. Up to now, the EU assembly's three main political groups have been claiming that Ashton's proposal, which formed the basis of the Council's decision, does not reflect "the Community interest" (EURACTIV 21/04/10).

Speaking on the sidelines of the Luxembourg meeting, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said it was time for turf wars to end in order to allow the EEAS to start work.

"Every day that we lose right now is too late," Stubb said of delays in forming the new European diplomatic corps, which is expected to have up to 7,000 staff, including 4,500 diplomats abroad, and have missions in more than 130 countries.

"We live in a new, multi-polar world with a plethora of players ranging from China to Brazil, India and Russia. They could not care less if Europe cannot get its act together. We simply must get something out today."

"We have a new institution and that is the diplomatic service of the EU. It's time to stop the Brussels-centred infighting and the institutional fundamentalism. We simply have to give a green light to this," he said.

That process of Parliament leaving its mark on EEAS could take months, people familiar with the process say. The best estimates for the EEAS to formally begin operations as a stand-alone foreign service – the newest in the world – are sometime in September, diplomats say.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt expressed his frustration over the internal squabbling surrounding the new diplomatic service, AFP reported.

"Brussels is spending far too much time dealing with itself and that is not the way it was supposed to be," he said, calling on ministers to stop the "bureaucratic battles" and let the new body concentrate on "real global problems".

"It is regrettable that the Council of Ministers did not take a formal decision at yesterday's meeting of the European External Action Service (EEAS)," said German liberal MEP Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (ALDE).

"Contrary to opposite claims, the so-called 'political agreement' leaves many questions unanswered. The most important question on the establishment of the new service is still unclear, i.e. the concrete design of the civil-military cooperation in crisis management," he said.

Lambsdorff criticised the ministers for failing to respect the schedule they had set for themselves. "The elections in the UK are now looming. If the Eurosceptic Tories take over the government on 19 May, the British position will be even more obstinate than it is already. To avoid this, a formal resolution would have been necessary. But this was not achieved," he concluded.

"There is no longer a turf war between the Commission and the High Representative," said Poul Skytte Christoffersen, special advisor to EU foreign affairs chief Baroness Ashton. "The next challenge will be the European Parliament," he said at a Development Policy Forum (DPF) lunch debate on 27 April.

"If everything goes well we should be able to have the basic decision adopted in June," Christoffersen said, adding that budget and staffing allocations "might take a few months more".

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.

Despite opposition from the European Parliament, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton unveiled on 25 March a proposal that puts a French-style secretary-general and two deputies at the centre of the EU's future diplomatic service (EURACTIV 26/03/10).

Ashton's 12-page proposal for establishing the European External Action Service (EEAS) ignored the Parliament, which had rejected the 'French-style' set up in which a secretary-general would hold enormous power (EURACTIV 24/03/10).

If approved, the secretary-general will run the European External Action Service web "like a spider," MEPs warned. A cross-party group of MEPs issued a statement saying the Parliament found the proposal unacceptable.

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 21 April, the leaders of the European Parliament's three largest political groups issued a statement warning against putting the future diplomatic corps under the thumb of EU member states (EURACTIV 21/0410).

The next day, Ashton presented a revised blueprint stripped of previous plans for a detailed organisational chart (EURACTIV 23/04/10).

  • 30 April: Deadline for adopting Catherine Ashton's proposal on setting up EEAS.
  • Autumn 2010: EEAS to become operational, according to its architects.

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