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20th Aug 2022

France and Germany eye top job in EU diplomatic corps

  • Mr Vimont at a food and wine festival in the US (Photo: SETH BROWARNIK/RED EYE PRODUCTIONS)

With plans for the EU's new diplomatic corps entering their final stage, EU capitals have quietly begun to negotiate over who will take the top jobs up for grabs.

The office of EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton is aiming to submit a draft organigram for the External Action Service (EAS) to EU diplomats in Brussels on 17 March.

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According to an EU official acquainted with the document, Ms Ashton's office wants the service to have nine senior posts: A secretary general, two deputy secretary generals and, below them, six director generals.

At the top of the hierarchy, Ms Ashton will mainly do shuttle diplomacy on the model of her predecessor, Javier Solana, who clocked up over 2.6 million air miles in his 10 years in office. The EU's 11 "special representatives," such as Marc Otte on the Middle East, will report directly to her.

The secretary general is to stay in Brussels and run the EAS on a day-to-day basis.

He will oversee the work of the six director generals and a number of autonomous EAS cells: the EU's Military Staff, responsible for planning overseas military missions; SitCen, an intelligence-sharing bureau; an internal security unit; an internal audit unit and a department handling communications and relations with other EU institutions.

The two deputy secretary generals will not have administrative duties, freeing them up to replace Ms Ashton at internal EU meetings or second-tier international events.

EU capitals are wary of openly lobbying for their candidates due to the accepted wisdom that early runners do not finish first.

But diplomatic sources say that the French ambassador to the US, Pierre Vimont, the secretary general of the French foreign ministry, Pierre Sellal, and a senior aide to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Christoph Heusgen, are the current favourites for the secretary general job.

Messrs Vimont and Sellal both have strong EU credentials, having served as France's ambassadors to the union during two previous French EU presidencies, in 2000 and 2008, respectively. Mr Heusgen was the top political advisor to Mr Solana.

The argument in favour of a French candidate is that French official Pierre de Boissieu, who currently runs the EU Council, will cede his place to a German official, Uwe Corsepius, in 2011. "We have a lot of good candidates for all the levels of the service. But it's premature to talk about these issues," a French diplomat said.

On the other hand, French EU official Christine Roger is already being lined up to become president of the EU's Political and Security Committee, a senior EU Council body handling security decisions. Germany has got little by way of top jobs in the new-look EU so far, with its EU commissioner, Guenther Oettinger, taking the medium-weight energy portfolio.

"It would be a bad sign of Germany's level of interest in EU foreign policy if it does not have a senior figure in the EAS," an EU diplomat said.

Meanwhile, Sweden's EU ambassador, Christian Danielsson, is being talked about as a possible deputy secretary general.

Six pillars

The six director generals will each run a department composed of several hundred officials, forming the main pillars of the EAS architecture.

One directorate is to take care of budget and personnel. A second one is to handle "global affairs" such as climate change, human rights and democracy promotion. A third one is to manage EU relations with multilateral bodies, such as the UN and the G20, as well as legal and consular affairs.

The remaining three are to be split on geographical lines: A fourth directorate is to cover EU neighbourhood countries, accession candidates, Russia, Central Asia and the Middle East. A fifth one is to span industrialised countries such as the US, Canada, Mexico, China, Japan and Australia. The sixth one is to take care of developing countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Ocean.

The European Commission and the European Parliament are also circulating draft organigrams with competing ideas for the EAS structure. "There's probably a draft organigram on every floor of every EU building in Brussels," another EU diplomat said.

The newer EU member states are pushing for senior EAS posts to be open to a free competition based on merit. But it is clear that the top nine appointments will be political decisions.

An EU official told this website that new member states can realistically aim to fill some of the director general-level posts only. The contact added that Polish centre-right MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski and the director of the Diplomatic Academy in Warsaw, Andrzej Ananincz, are in the frame.

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