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3rd Mar 2024

Foreign ministers lobby Ashton by SMS on top jobs

  • Lobby by SMS: Ashton's inbox is full of ideas for EEAS candidates (Photo: ShuffleArt)

Foreign ministers lobbied EU top diplomat Catherine Ashton by every means possible including "by SMS" to get their candidates appointed to the new European External Action Service (EEAS), Finnish FM Alexander Stubb said during a meeting in Brussels on Friday (10 September).

The top positions are likely to be filled by a German, a Frenchman, a Pole and an EU commission official from Ireland.

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"I think the allocation of personnel is very much a discussion that takes place behind closed doors, by mobile phone or by SMS," Mr Stubb told journalists during the informal meeting of foreign ministers in the EU capital.

"All of us have friends and we are trying to lobby Catherine Ashton for places," he added.

Finland's aim is to get about 12 people overall into the EEAS system "on various levels."

"I'm quite hopeful, things are going quite well, but there's nothing on paper yet," the Finnish minister said.

Ms Ashton, who is to discuss the EEAS in a broad sense on Friday evening and Saturday morning, is expected to make an announcement shortly about the top four positions up for grabs. "She is very pleased with the quality of the candidates," one EU source told this website.

The fourth-highest post, that of "Chief Operations Officer," was apparently created to reach a compromise with the European Parliament on including someone from the EU commission in the top tier. The current director general for trade, David O'Sullivan from Ireland, who is a former subordinate of Ms Ashton from the time when she was trade commissioner, is tipped to get the job.

The two from the big and "old" member states are Helga Schmid, a German diplomat who worked in the office of former foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and Pierre Vimont, currently France's envoy to Washington.

The post to be filled by a Polish official is currently being disputed between Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, Warsaw's preferred candidate and currently the minister for EU affairs, whom some commission official see as lacking experience, and Maciej Popowski, a former Polish ambassador to Brussels and currently the head of cabinet of European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek.

Ms Ashton will also announce some 30 new EU ambassadors abroad, for which about 1,000 applications have been received.

Not every country is as pleased as Finland with the ongoing talks. Neighbouring Estonia, a former Soviet state, thinks the requirements are unfair for diplomats who still have to catch up on experience after less than 20 years of freedom.

"There are two issues - one is that it's very difficult to argue that the best candidate should not get the position, if you look at competitions. But at the same time, because of history, diplomats from new member states didn't have the same possibilities as those from old member states," foreign minister Urmas Paet told EUobserver.

"Our recent histroy is less than 20 years, at the same time when other countries had a normal development for the past 60-70 years. We didn't have the opportunity to serve for decades in every corner of the world. And this is a problem."

Estonia has been repeatedly pointing out that too few eastern diplomats are currently part of the system and warned against this tendency in the new scheme.

"If the outcome really is as the statistics show, that very few are selected from new member states, it creates disappointment and frustration in new member states and it will not be helpful for the further development of the EEAS," Mr Paet concluded.

Correction: The article previously said that Finland would like to get around 62 people into the diplomatic service. This should have read 12.

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