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20th Aug 2017

Germany calls for more powerful EU diplomatic service

  • Asthon's mandate ends in 2014, but she has won credit for her diplomatic skills (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Germany has proposed giving the EU's foreign service sweeping new powers over neighbourhood policy and development aid.

Its ideas are to be discussed by EU foreign ministers at a meeting in Dublin on Friday (22 March).

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But its non-paper, a three-page text dated 1 February and seen by EUobserver, has already been endorsed by 13 other EU countries - Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden.

It says: "the EEAS [European External Action Service] should be further strengthened to ensure a coherent, comprehensive and integrated EU approach to external action."

It calls for it to "be responsible for neighbourhood policy" and to get "overall authority" on "strategic and multi-annual programming in the area of development co-operation."

EU relations with neighbouring states and development aid are currently handled by the European Commission, with separate commissioners for each of the two portfolios.

An EU diplomat told this website the "institutional implications" of the plan - for example, whether to change the EU treaty on the number of commissioners or how to increase the EEAS budget - are to be worked out at a later stage.

But the non-paper already makes one budget proposal, saying "the scope of financial instruments under the responsibility of the EEAS should include all parts of the [commission's] Instrument for Stability [IfS]."

The current EEAS budget is worth €489 million a year.

The IfS is worth another €295 million. But if the foreign service gets control of the European Neighbourhood Policy Instrument (€1.6bn a year), the Development Co-operation Instrument (€2.4bn) and the European Development Fund (€4.5bn), its chequebook would swell to €9.3 billion a year.

In other upgrades, Germany wants the EEAS to take charge of negotiations on EU association and partnership treaties with world powers such as China, Israel or Russia.

It also says EEAS ambassadors should have priority over member states' diplomatic envoys in "representing all aspects of the EU's external policy in a third country."

At the same time, it recognises that the EU foreign service needs to sort out its administrative problems.

EEAS officials have complained there is confusion on who does what at senior level and that the commission, which takes care of EEAS human resources, does a poor job in what looks to some like sabotage in a Brussels turf war.

Meanwhile, EEAS chief Catherine Ashton has faced criticism for skipping internal EU meetings in favour of international events.

The non-paper says that: "Two years after the establishment of the EEAS, the processes and structure at senior management level should be reviewed with a view to ensuring clear reporting lines and division of tasks."

It urges the commission to "ensure the effective provision of administrative tasks."

It also indicates that Ashton should have deputies who can "represent [her] in the college of commissioners, in the European Parliament and vis-a-vis third countries."

In terms of process, Ashton is to draft her own review proposals after the Dublin meeting. EU countries will then tweak the plan, with a view to getting an agreement in autumn.

Britain is expected to oppose Germany's ideas.

France, another EU country which guards its right to an independent foreign policy, has circulated two non-papers of its own ahead of Dublin.

Some EU diplomats are also concerned the commission will fight to keep its powers. "We fear [commission chief] Mr. Barroso. He really needs to make an effort on collaborating," a diplomatic contact noted.

For her part, Ashton's mandate as EEAS chief ends in 2014.

Britain and France in the beginning attacked her for lack of foreign policy nous and for overlooking the military and security aspects of her portfolio.

She later won credit for her handling of non-proliferation talks with Iran and Kosovo-Serbia reconciliation, however.

Her spokesman, Michael Mann, underlined that she has transformed the EEAS "from an idea on paper to a fully-functioning EU diplomatic service."

He added: "The service already runs smoothly and co-operates well with the commission."

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