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4th Mar 2024

Sweden complains about EU appointment to US

  • Bildt: the letter was sent out to EU capitals ahead of Monday's foreign ministers meeting (Photo: Council of European Union)

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt has in a letter complained about the way the EU commission recently appointed its top envoy to the US.

The letter, dated 19 February and addressed to EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton, asks how the appointment was made, since the rules governing the procedure are still under discussion by member states.

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It says that Ms Ashton seems not to have played a major role in the decision and calls for a wider discussion of the US move.

The letter was distributed to EU capitals on the eve of a foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on Monday (22 February), where it is likely to spark debate.

The European Commission on 17 February nominated Joao Vale de Almeida, EU commission President Jose Manuel Barroso's former chief of staff and a fellow Portuguese official, to become its new head of mission in Washington.

Under the Libson Treaty, which came into force in December last year, diplomatic appointments are now Ms Ashton's prerogative. But the detailed rules of procedure will not be in place until April.

EU diplomats last week told EUobserver that the move is justifiable because the EU is still in a "transitional" phase and that the formal proposal had been put forward in Ms Ashton's name.

Some EU officials see the Almeida decision as a power grab by the commission chief.

"In the future, if the US wants to send a message to the EU, it will go through Almeida because it knows he has a special relationship with Barroso. Ashton will be left out," one contact said.

But it also removes a Barroso loyalist from the post of head of the commission's external relations department, giving individual member states the chance to lobby for one of their own to become Ms Ashton's deputy.

The Bildt letter is unlikely to see a reversal of Mr Almeida's appointment, which would be an embarrassment for the union.

But Sweden's position could gain sympathy from new member states, which feel that the EU establishment is conspiring to keep them out of top diplomatic posts - just one of the commission's 136 foreign delegations is headed by a person from one of the new EU members six years after enlargement.

"If the entire region feels disenfranchised, before you know it, we will kick up a fuss," a senior diplomat from one of the new member states said.

Ukraine, another important commission delegation, is also headed by an old Portuguese friend of Mr Barroso - Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira. But some new member states would like to see a more political figure who is well known in the region take over.

German press agency DPA reports that Ms Ashton will on Monday appoint Lithuanian diplomat Vygaudas Usackas to be her envoy to Afghanistan, potentially soothing nerves.

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