Sunday

1st May 2016

Turkey and China host biggest EU outposts

Staff numbers at embassies highlight EU interest in Turkey, China, the Western Balkans and in multilateral bodies, as well as member states' ongoing reliance on bilateral diplomacy.

The EU's top 10 delegations in terms of staff numbers are: Ankara (137), Beijing/Hong Kong (116), Moscow (102), Belgrade (100), Ramallah/Tel Aviv (97), Kiev (93), Sarajevo (92), New Delhi (87), Washington (86) and Nairobi (85).

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  • Ashton arriving in China last October (Photo: ec.eruopa.eu)

The EU also has 187 people posted to various branches of the UN, the WTO, the African Union, the OECD economic club and democracy watchdogs the OSCE and the Council of Europe.

One year after the creation of the European External Action Service (EEAS), big member states still outgun EU institutions in diplomatic firepower.

The UK has 270 people in Washington, 245 in Beijing and 230 in Moscow. France has 421 in Washington, 305 in Beijing and 224 in the Russian capital. When it comes to lobbying EU institutions and Nato, the US has 650 staff in Brussels.

The numbers do not tell the whole story.

Member states' embassies include diplomats and consular staff. The EU does not do consular work, while its delegations house both EEAS and European Commission people, who take care of enlargement and development aid.

In prospective EU entrants and in poor countries EEAS diplomats are outnumbered by commission officials. In Turkey, the split is 22/115. In Kenya, it is 26/59.

But enlargement and aid are highly political, creating a net result in terms of Brussels' influence abroad.

Looking at staff who answer to EEAS chief Catherine Ashton alone, the top 10 is different: Washington (56), Moscow (46), Tokyo (36), China (30), Ramallah/Tel Aviv (29), Conakry (26), New Delhi (26), Nairobi (26), Bangkok (23) and Ankara (22).

'Barbados might sound nice'

An EU official admitted that some of the numbers look funny but said there are good reasons.

The EU has 43 people in Barbados, 33 in remote Fiji and 77 in Nicaragua, recently prompting MEPs to ask if they are just enjoying the sunshine.

The Barbados mission also covers 10 local mini-states, such as St. Lucia or Anguilla, while Fiji covers all the micro-states in the Pacific Ocean.

"Barbados might sound very nice but staff spend lots of time travelling and work very hard ... Fiji covers a geographic area larger than the territories of the 27 EU countries," the official said.

Some places use lots of locally-hired staff because working conditions - such as driving from place to place - are tricky (Ashton has two diplomats and 24 local staff in Conakry).

The Nicaragua mission was set up to co-ordinate regional aid after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, but is now out of date.

Ashton and the commission are planning to reshuffle overseas personnel after 2013.

The EU official said Ashton will probably open a new embassy in one of the Persian Gulf states already this year (the EU has just 14 people in Saudi Arabia and nobody in Qatar or the United Arab Emirates) and send more people to north Africa.

On the commission side, there is to be a shift from Latin America and Asia to Africa.

Iran embassy not out of the question

The EEAS on Thursday (26 April) signed an "establishment agreement" - a template for diplomatic relations - for a new embassy in Burma. Iran is a future possibility if tensions relax. North Korea is beyond the pale, however.

The official noted that member states have shown "enthusiasm" for bunching up some of their embassies with the EEAS in single compounds, called "Europe houses," to save money.

Several EU countries already operate out of the same building in Tanzania, with talks under way for a pan-EU compound in Afghanistan.

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