3rd Dec 2022

Ashton justifies low intake from new EU countries

New EU countries did poorly in the recent intake of senior diplomats for the European External Action Service (EEAS) because their candidates frequently applied for the same posts, EEAS chief Catherine Ashton has said.

"One problem this time round is that newer Member States were competing against each other for few posts in [sic] neigbourhood region (nearly two thirds of applicants from newer member states concentrated on just 5 posts)," the British baroness wrote in a letter to Polish centre-right deputy Jacek Saryusz-Wolski on Wednesday (22 September).

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  • The Ashton letter added that a quota system "could exclude the best applicants for the jobs" (Photo: European Parliament)

She added that relatively few women applied because of: "the requirement for unbroken professional experience (which does not reflect the often non-linear career patterns of female applicants)."

Out of 68 shortlisted candidates for the 29 jobs, 11 were from new EU countries and 14 were women. Four candidates from new countries and seven women got through. It is unclear how many candidates from either category were knocked out at the shortlisting stage.

Ms Ashton said her letter is designed "to set out the facts - rather than the myths" and noted that the appointments add up to a 40-percent-plus jump in the number of eastern Europeans and women in senior overseas jobs.

The application process for a further 80 high-level EEAS postings closed on 10 September. Another 20-or-so senior administrative jobs in the service are also up for grabs.

Former Communist and former Soviet EU countries believe that France, Germany, the UK and other older members of the EU club divide up the best posts between them in back room deals.

The ex-Iron Curtain states are also keen to get people into post-Soviet-region postings because they believe they are better qualified to handle them. The current EU envoy to Russia, a Spaniard, and the ambassador to Ukraine, a Portuguese, speak little-or-no Russian or Ukrainian.

"Former colonial powers know better the situation in Latin America or in the Middle East. Eastern European diplomats know better the situation in the post-Soviet area. That's the reality," Mr Saryusz-Wolski, a rapporteur on the EEAS for the parliament's foreign affairs committee, said.

He dismissed the Ashton percentages as a "statistical trick." "An increase on the basis of small numbers always looks very high. The division of the 29 posts does not correct the geographic or gender imbalance [in the EEAS]," he said.

The foreign affairs committee on Monday postponed until 29 September its formal opinion on how to amend the EU's staff regulations in order to include the EEAS. It aims to meet with MEPs from the legal affairs committee on 28 September in order to press them to include provisions on geographic and gender balance in the letter of the law on EEAS personnel.

Parliament expects to finalise its views on EEAS staff and budget rules at its October plenary. The service is due to start work on 1 December.

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