29th Feb 2024

Sweden continues attack on US appointment

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt has said the EU commission's sneaky way of handling a recent US appointment will not be repeated, following a high-level debate in Brussels.

EU foreign ministers and foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, on Monday (21 February) discussed Mr Bildt's complaint that member states were not consulted before the commission last week said one of its staff is to become its top envoy in Washington.

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  • The EU representative to Washington will have to undergo a hearing in the US Congress (Photo: Wikipedia)

"We had an agreement in 2004 when we appointed [former Irish Prime Minister] John Bruton that we needed a political level representative in Washington. Of course you can take the decision to go down to another kind of representative than we discussed some years ago, but I do think that one should consult more on that decision, as it is a political decision," Mr Bildt told press after the meeting.

He underlined that he had nothing personal against the appointee, Joao Vale de Almeida, but only against his lower rank compared to Mr Bruton.

Mr Almeida, 54, was the head of cabinet for commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and was later put in charge of the commission's external relations wing. He was also the commission chief's personal sherpa in G20-type events.

Mr Bildt rejected suggestions that Mr Almeida's position could be undermined by his complaint: "One shouldn't exaggerate that. I think he will be a very good representative on that level. But there is another level as well."

The Swedish minister said the new working relationship between member states, Mr Barroso and Ms Ashton had become clearer following Monday's debate. "I think partly as a result of the fact that we are discussing it now, this won't be repeated," he said.

Under the Lisbon Treaty, which came into force last December, diplomatic appointments are now Ms Ashton's prerogative. But the feeling in Brussels is that Mr Barroso forced through the Almeida move.

In line with past form, as in the case of Mr Bruton, Mr Barroso or Ms Ashton should have "extensively" consulted with EU capitals before making a top flight nomination. But the US decision came as a surprise to most EU capitals.

For her part, Ms Ashton defended her role in the process.

"It was my decision to do so," she told press on Monday. "The feedback from the US is that they are delighted to have someone of his [Mr Almeida's] calibre take up the position in the coming weeks."

Ms Ashton said that in technical terms it was still the commission's sole competence to make the US appointment because the vacancy came up in October 2009, one month before the Lisbon framework kicked in.

"The procedure that I followed is exactly the right procedure... a couple of member states raised this with me. We've dealt with it. It's done," she said.

In contrast to the Almeida move, Ms Ashton consulted widely on the appointment of Lithuanian diplomat Vygaudas Usackas to become the EU's envoy to Afghanistan, and interviewed around six candidates before making up her mind.

Barroso aide appointed EU ambassador to Washington

The European Commission on Wednesday nominated Joao Vale de Almeida, a close aide of Mr Barroso, as EU's new ambassador in Washington, after a gap of over three months in which the executive had no representative in the US capital.

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