EU’s new diplomatic corps faces staffing issues

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EU foreign ministers earlier this week outlined their vision for the new European External Action Service (EEAS), the diplomatic corps to be created by the Lisbon Treaty. However, many questions remain, notably concerning the body’s recruitment procedures.

A progress report by Swedish EU Presidency on the new diplomatic service, seen by EURACTIV, was approved by EU foreign ministers this week, and will be presented at a European summit in Brussels today (29 October). 

The Swedish Presidency did well to make quick progress on such a politically-sensitive topic, diplomats told EURACTIV. 

The sources described the text as quite detailed in many respects, noting that it clearly emphasised the new diplomatic corps’ importance in the post-Lisbon Treaty EU hierarchy. 

For example, the text recommends that the EEAS should legally “have an organisational status reflecting its unique role and functions in the EU system. The EEAS should be a service of a sui generis nature separate from the Commission and the Council Secretariat,” it says. 

The High Representative would wield significant powers, enjoying the final say on staff appointments and controlling his/her own budget within the overall EU one.

Single desk policy favoured by member states 

The report also endorses the ‘single desk’ policy, the idea that the EEAS should “be composed of single geographical and thematic desks which would continue to perform, under the authority of the [high representative for foreign affairs], the tasks currently executed by the relevant parts of the Commission and the Council Secretariat”. 

This would mean that the new corps would be responsible for all the strategic decisions pertaining to a particular desk – the ‘Horn of Africa’ desk, for example. But when it comes to the management of funding and the implementation of these decisions, the European Commission would still be in charge, as is currently the case.

Recruitment process still unclear 

However, the text remains vague on the key issue of how EEAS staff will actually be recruited. This is likely to be a sticking point as negotiations continue among the EU institutions and member states, the source indicated. 

Ultimately, it will be up to the person who becomes high representative (HR) to bring forward proposals as to the functioning of the EEAS, EU sources say.

The Swedish Presidency’s report is a roadmap laying out recommendations, argues the source, and nothing more, though it is likely to carry weight given that “it outlines to the HR what member states are looking for” and, more importantly, “what they will agree to”. 

The Lisbon Treaty creates a new European External Action Service (EEAS), intended as a diplomatic corps that will oversee the EU's foreign relations around the world, as well as Europe's huge aid and humanitarian budget. 

The EEAS will be headed by the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, who will also be a European Commission vice-president. 

The 130 existing Commission delegations will be subsumed into the new body, which will become "EU delegations" and will be staffed by civil servants from the Commission, the Council of the European Union and national foreign ministries. 

"They will be answerable to the High Representative with the aim of increasing the impact and coherence of the EU's foreign policy," according to the EU institutions.

Last week, the European Parliament rushed to adopt a resolution marking its territory on the future EU diplomatic corps (EURACTIV 22/10/09).

  • Nov. 2009: Likely nomination of EU high representative for foreign affairs.
  • Jan-March 2010: New high representative to make final proposals on the EEAS.

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