Tuesday

22nd May 2018

Commission still pulls the strings on EU foreign policy

  • Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and Ashton. EU ambassador: 'We were told: 'You have the mike, but we have the money'' (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

A new deal between the European Commission and Catherine Ashton sheds light on how much power the EU executive still has on foreign relations.

Coming one year after the launch of her European External Action Service (EEAS), the so-called inter-service agreement - a 40-page paper dated 13 January and seen by EUobserver - details who does what in the EU's day-to-day dealings with foreign countries.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

It says the commission and the EEAS "jointly" plan overall spending strategies on the Union's €9.5-billion-a-year external relations budget.

But development commissioner Andris Piebalgs, neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele and aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva keep full control of designing and implementing actual projects in the 104 countries and the €7.5 billion covered by their portfolios.

"The EEAS shall refrain from taking any measures ... on issues which fall under commission competence," the agreement says.

The commission also has part-control of three crisis management and pro-democracy funds - the so-called EIDHR, IfS and CFSP, worth another €1 billion.

Ashton proposes EIDHR and IfS projects, but then Piebalgs' people take over and draft the final blueprints, while keeping EEAS staff "informed" and inviting them to meetings.

Ashton also proposes CFSP projects, but a commission office - the Service for Foreign Policy Instruments [FPI] - writes the assessment study used by EU countries to decide which ones go forward and writes the final blueprint.

On top of this, commission officials oversee how Ashton spends her €500-million-a-year internal budget.

The service pact says her ambassadors "will be tasked with timely, accurate and reliable reporting to the relevant commission AOD [Authorising Officer by Delegation], according to intervals and format decided on by the commission."

It adds that commission auditors are to be "involved on a permanent and ongoing basis, in virtually all the aspects of the financial administration of the EEAS."

The commission even has power over Ashton's media relations.

Its FPI handles the EEAS press and communications budget. The commission decides if she gets a spot on its internet TV channel - the European Broadcasting Service - and its spokespeople must be told "in a timely manner" if she wants to do a press release.

Meanwhile, Ashton's ambassadors spend much of their time taking instructions from and drafting reports for Piebalgs, Fuele and Georgieva's officials, as well as doing the paperwork on the commissioners' projects in their role as "sub-delegated" accounting officers.

'In the driver's seat'

Ashton spokesman Michael Mann said the inter-service pact does not diminish the EU diplomatic corps' authority.

He said the EEAS is "in the driver's seat" in terms of spending strategies, while the commission does "budget implementation."

He added that "the heads of delegation are in charge of the whole activity of their delegation" and that "in a national embassy it would also be logical for an ambassador to receive instruction from and to give feedback to a line ministry, while keeping the MFA [ministry of foreign affairs] in copy."

An EU head of delegation - who asked to remain anonymous - described the inter-service arrangements as "cumbersome" and "slow," however.

In one example, if the EEAS wants to release up to €20 million in emergency funds the decision must go through Ashton's secretary general, her private office, the FPI, "relevant" commission services and the Political and Security Committee (a group of EU countries' ambassadors).

Mann said the process takes one week.

The head of delegation noted: "It takes about a month and this is supposed to be our fastest instrument."

The contact added that there is a political split between the EEAS, which wants to use development aid to support political goals, and Piebalgs' people, who take a "Biblical" view that aid money should only help the poor.

"We were told: 'You have the mike, but we have the money. You can make statements and say whatever you like, but we control the money' ... I don't mind having so many bosses [taking instructions from various commissioners], but what's important to me is that they act as a team. I don't think they talk to each other," the EU ambassador said.

Ashton chooses €12-million-a-year EU headquarters

The EU's new diplomatic service is to be housed in the so-called Triangle building in the heart of the EU quarter in Brussels, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony planned in the lobby in December.

Ashton names EU foreign-service priorities at low-key launch event

Relations with the US and China, climate change, poverty eradication, crisis management and counter-terrorism are to be the top priorities of the EU's new diplomatic corps, EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton told her stable of 136 ambassadors at a behind-closed-doors meeting in Brussels.

MEPs to oversee details of Ashton spending

The European Parliament has won the right to look into the nitty gritty of spending in foreign delegations in the EU's new diplomatic service amid mild alarm over rising costs.

Turkey and China host biggest EU outposts

Staff numbers at foreign delegations highlight EU interest in Turkey and China, as well as member states' ongoing reliance on bilateral diplomacy.

Opinion

EU budget must not fortify Europe at expense of peace

Given the European Commission new budget's heavy focus on migration, border management and security, many are asking whether the proposal will fortify Europe at the expense of its peace commitments.

Opinion

Europe's budget stasis

The EU's budgetary muddling through might not be enough when the next crisis hits.

News in Brief

  1. Unknown professor proposed as Italy's new prime minister
  2. 154 German economists warn against eurozone reform
  3. Growing €176bn EU trade deficit with China
  4. All 4.8m Swedish homes get 'war preparation' leaflet
  5. Trump warns Nato allies' low budgets will be 'dealt with'
  6. Only Estonia, Greece and UK hit Nato spending target
  7. EU to start process to counter US Iran sanctions
  8. Macedonia PM sees 'possible solutions' in Greek name row

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  2. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and reconciliation is a process that takes decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  3. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  5. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  7. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  10. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  11. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach
  12. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May

Latest News

  1. Facebook threatened with removal from EU-US data pact
  2. Defence firms 'reap benefits' of their advice to EU
  3. Athens mayor wants direct access to EU migration fund
  4. Nordics could be first carbon-negative region in world
  5. Zuckerberg and Trump top the EU's agenda This WEEK
  6. Integration of Syrian refugees in Europe needs scrutiny
  7. Bulgarian PM: No asylum reform without stronger border
  8. Eight countries to miss EU data protection deadline

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  2. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  5. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  7. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  8. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  9. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  10. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  11. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight