Sunday

24th Jul 2016

Countries want joint EU consulates, survey says

Several member states want the EU’s overseas embassies to provide joint consular services, an EU “audit” has found.

“All the member states, especially the smaller and medium-sized ones who do not have traditional embassies all over the world, were of the opinion … that EU representations should be the focal point where consular services could be done, including the issuing of visas and, especially, the protection of interests of EU citizens abroad”, Szabolcs Fazakas, a Hungarian member of the EU Court of Auditors, told press in Brussels on Monday (30 June).

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

He spoke after sending out questionnaires to 15 EU states as part of a one-off study on the creation of the European External Action Service (EEAS).

The list includes: Austria; Bulgaria; the Czech Republic, Cyprus; Estonia; Hungary; Italy; Latvia; the Netherlands; Poland; Portugal; Slovakia; Spain; Sweden; and the UK. Three did not reply, but the court does not say which ones.

Fazakas noted there is nothing in EU law to mandate consular co-operation.

He also said the EEAS “does not have the financial resources” in its current €520-million-a-year budget to launch such a scheme.

The auditors were forgiving of what they called the “fairly young” institution.

They noted the European Commission should take some of the blame for management problems because it runs large parts of EEAS day-to-day life in, for instance, human resources and IT.

They blamed member states for the foreign service’s “top-heavy” structure - it has more than twice the normal number of highly-paid officials - because EU states pushed to get top posts for seconded diplomats.

They did criticise EEAS chief Catherine Ashton’s management style, however.

The report says her decision to personally interview all candidates for top diplomatic posts wasted money because candidates often flew to Brussels only to find out she was too busy to see them after all (on 114 occasions).

It notes she has “23 direct reporting lines” to her office, instead of delegating.

It also says her staff often submitted documents “late” and at “short notice” before high-level meetings.

This was partly because the EEAS never drafted a “strategic framework” for EU foreign policy, meaning that each new foreign development prompted “intense debates” in Brussels.

But it was also due to bureaucracy.

The auditors said that before any document went out “the [internal] validation process took an average of four days and included up to five validators (deputy head of division, head of division, director, managing director, member of the corporate board) before reaching the cabinet, where there is a possibility that the text may be redrafted.”

They acknowledged that Ashton had plenty on her plate.

But they noted that she missed two-thirds of European Commission meetings. She did not once chair a group which brought together EU commissioners with foreign-linked portfolios, such as climate change or humanitarian aid.

The report also raised concerns on access to information.

It noted that just 70 out of 140 EU ambassadors have security clearance to read classified files. Only 23 out of 140 embassies have the IT systems to circulate files marked “confidential” or “secret”.

The audit cited replies by Ashton’s people.

The EEAS said “consular protection remains a national competence”. But it noted that EU embassies in Lebanon, in the Philippines, and in South Sudan did help to evacuate EU citizens whose countries did not have a mission in place.

It added that EU countries never gave Ashton “a clear mandate” to draw up a foreign policy strategy.

It also said the EEAS is doing “a complete reworking of the classified information systems … with the objective to transform the still heterogeneous current systems in one ‘EEAS Corporate’ system” which “should be operational in 2016”.

The Luxembourg-based Court of Auditors' reports are not binding, but its spokesman said EU institutions have a "good track record" of implementing recommendations.

He noted the EEAS will "probably" see another management audit three to five years from now.

MEPs fear further 'Putinisation' of Turkey

MEPs criticised the harsh crackdown in Turkey after last week's failed coup, and warned that Ankara must not go down the road towards an authoritarian regime, in an extraordinary meeting of the EP's foreign affairs committee.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Belgrade Security ForumMigration, Security and Solidarity within Global Disorder: Academic Event Agenda for 2016
  2. GoogleHow Google Fights Piracy: Creating Value While Fighting Piracy
  3. EJC"My Visit to Israel" - Opinion by MEP Lopez Aguilar, Chair of the EP Working Group on Antisemitism
  4. World VisionChildren Migrating, Out of School and at Work as Hunger Deepens in Southern Africa
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceStand-Up (and Exercise) to Prevent Chronic Diseases
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersLaunches a Real-time News Hub Specialised in EU Stakeholders
  7. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen Calls for International Probe Into Turkey Coup Allegations
  8. GoogleEU-US Privacy Shield: Restoring Faith in Data Flows and Transatlantic Relations
  9. World VisionWorld Leaders & Youth Advocates Launch Partnership to End Violence Vs. Children
  10. Counter BalanceReport: Institutionalised Corruption in Romania's Third Largest Company
  11. Access NowEuropol Supports Encryption. We Can Relax Now… Right?
  12. GoogleLearn about Google's projects across Europe on Twitter @GoogleBrussels

Latest News

  1. Munich attack might not have been terrorism
  2. A very British (and Corbynite) coup
  3. Poland 'changing for the worse' for Muslims and refugees
  4. EU aims to lift visas on Turks despite purge
  5. ECB in ‘bail-out’ of scandal-tainted VW
  6. EU failed to learn lesson from Brexit, Poland says
  7. UK accord on EU workers 'crucial', France says
  8. EU and US take different lines on Turkey crackdown