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30th Sep 2023

Ashton eyes reshuffle of EU 'special representatives'

  • Ms Ashton and Mr Solana: the first EUSRs were appointed in 1996. Mr Solana, her forerunner, expanded the team of conflict resolution specialists (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton is planning to reshuffle her predecessor's team of 11 top diplomats, with the UK's Paddy Ashdown tipped for a new Balkans post.

According to the latest thinking, EU Special Representatives (EUSRs) appointed to individual countries would be given the chop as the European Commission's foreign missions are formally converted into EU embassies with more politically powerful heads of delegation.

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Meanwhile, a new set of EUSR portfolios with regional powers is likely to be created, with Ms Ashton's office already eyeing a Balkans troubleshooter covering Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia.

"Given that the new External Action Service will boost the role of heads of delegation, obviously this makes the case for more regional-level special representatives," an EU official told this website.

The logic could see the departure of Danish diplomat Torben Brylle, the current special envoy on Sudan; Dutch diplomat Pieter Feith on Kosovo; Irishman Erwan Fouere on Macedonia; Austrian diplomat Valenitn Inzko on Bosnia; and Hungarian diplomat Kalman Mizsei on Moldova.

According to a letter from Ms Ashton's office obtained by Radio Free Europe, Swedish diplomat Peter Semneby, who currently covers Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, will also be asked to go, leaving the three states in the hands of their respective EU embassies.

The existing regional-level special envoys cover Central Asia, the Georgia-Russia crisis, the Middle East, the African Union and Africa's Great Lakes region. The recently-appointed special envoy to Afghanistan is also the "double-hatted" head of the EU mission in Kabul.

With Ms Ashton meeting Balkan-area foreign ministers and high-level officials from the 27 EU countries in Sarajevo on Wednesday (2 June) before jetting back to talk to the new government in London on Thursday, speculation is mounting that Britain's Paddy Ashdown is in line for the new Balkans job.

Mr Ashdown, who served as the UN's top man in Bosnia between 2002 and 2006, has declined to officially declare his candidacy. But he told UK daily The Guardian on Tuesday that: "Since I left the Balkans four years ago, there has been constant speculation about a Balkan envoy ...Obviously I think it's a good idea."

The final decision on the 11 special representatives is likely to be made as part of a wider "package" of around 40 or 50 senior appointments in the EU's new diplomatic corps.

EU capitals have already begun quietly negotiating on who will get what in the carve-up. The discussion is expected to gather pace in the early weeks of the Belgian EU presidency starting in July. But UK candidates, such as Mr Ashdown, could be at a disadvantage due to German and French fears that the corps will have too many British-origin officials, such as Ms Ashton herself, in high places.

The process of converting the EU commission's foreign delegations into EU embassies has accelerated under the Spanish EU presidency.

Out of the 136 commission delegations around the world, 81 are set to have become EU embassies by the time Spain ends its EU chairmanship, with the rest to follow by the end of the year.

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