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15th Aug 2022

Germany attacks UK over EU diplomatic service

  • Catherine Ashton: "If we are able to act in a unified way on the world stage, we can safeguard our interests" (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Germany has in a leaked diplomatic note attacked what it sees as the UK's attempt to dominate the EU's emerging External Action Service.

The confidential foreign ministry document, obtained by the Guardian, the British daily, says that the UK has an "excessive" and "over-proportionate" role in the bloc's new foreign policy structures.

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"Excessive GB participation is evident," the note says. "Over-proportionate GB influence on the establishment and staffing is to be avoided."

The External Action Service (EAS) is to be headed by the EU's new foreign policy chief, British official Catherine Ashton, in a deal struck by member states last November.

Ms Ashton is currently drafting a proposal on the shape of the diplomatic corps with the help of a high-level steering group. The paper is due in April with no decisions made yet on top appointments. But the steering group itself has three British officials on its 13-strong team, compared to just one German.

Ms Ashton's private office, or "cabinet" in Brussels terms, is led by a former UK diplomat, James Morrison.

Meanwhile, another series of Brits is waiting in the wings to take over key elements of the EAS architecture: the EU commission's existing head of foreign delegations, Patrick Child; the chief of the EU Council's military committee, David Leakey; and the head of its intelligence-sharing bureau, William Shapcott.

The British roll-call was offset on Friday (26 February) by Ms Ashton's appointment of Denmark's ambassador to the EU, Poul Skytte Christoffersen, as a "special advisor" on the EAS.

But her relative inexperience and her regular trips to the UK, where she has her family home, have aggravated fears that she is open to manipulation by London.

While the over-arching proposal on the diplomatic corps has yet to be submitted to member states, Ms Ashton's team last week began circulating "vision papers" for the service.

One of the documents, seen by EUobserver, says the EAS "will help to make the EU common foreign and security policy a reality on the ground."

"We need to organise to be heard: if we are able to act in a unified way on the world stage, we can safeguard our interests. If not, others will make decisions for us," it adds.

The paper envisages having "desks for all countries and regions (regional organisations) in the world," as well as specialised units for human rights, democracy and security and defence.

The EAS is also to field its own security service and a "strong and substantive media operation" including internet-based communications on Twitter and Facebook.

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