Sunday

28th Aug 2016

France keen for EU diplomats to beef up security, consular services

  • Ashton in Libya. France says the EU needs more security experts in hotspot delegations (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

France has called for the EU foreign service to hire a new cadre of security experts and to create consular departments in its overseas embassies.

It put forward its ideas in two non-papers, seen by EUobserver, which were circulated in Brussels ahead of talks by foreign ministers in Dublin on Friday (22 March).

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One paper says the Mali war "demonstrated once again" the need to "reinforce the EEAS' [European External Action Service's] security and defence expertise."

It says EEAS chief Catherine Ashton should hire "European military experts, policemen or gendarmes (to be financed by the EU and not by member states)" and put them in delegations in flashpoint countries.

With analysts critical of EU dithering on Mali before France's attack on rebels in January, the paper also calls for a shake-up in Ashton's administration.

It says she should appoint a secretary general to take charge of security and defence policy.

It also says she should clear up how her three crisis management units - the CMPD, the CPCC and EUMS - work together, putting the CMPD (Crisis Management Planning Directorate) in overall control.

France's second paper on consular issues outlines how to help EU expats whose countries of origin do not have embassies in their host nations.

It calls for the creation of "consular divisions" in EEAS delegations and for extra money to do the new work.

It says EU ambassadors should draft plans with member states' envoys on who does what in the event of a crisis and that the EU ambassadors should co-ordinate action if trouble strikes.

The French ideas are part of an EEAS reform process, designed to bear fruit in autumn.

They are less ambitious than a parallel German paper, which calls for the EU foreign service to take control of the European Commission's neighbourhood policy and development aid budget.

The German paper also notes "the EEAS' capacity to support MS' [member states'] consular activities should be reviewed," however.

Ashton, whose term in office finishes next year, has been accused of downgrading the security side of her portfolio.

But she has already started hiring new security experts in a pilot project.

The men are said to have military or police, but not intelligence backgrounds. One, a senior Italian military officer, is in place in Libya. Others were to go to Bosnia and the Horn of Africa. Their wages are being paid by member states, not out of Ashton's pocket.

France's idea is modelled on its own foreign ministry, which installs security experts as charges d'affaires - the number two post - in its embassies.

An EU source told this website that most number twos in EU delegations "know nothing about security."

He recalled crisis meetings with EU and member states' diplomats in one Middle East country in which "the EU people were always looking to the French guy to make sure they said the right thing."

The source noted that member states' interest in EU security arrangements is not selfless.

"The Italian guy is there in Libya to develop Italian business. It's useful to know that, say, tomorrow the EU will issue a €20 million tender for police reform. He can pass the information back home," he said.

"The UK has given Ashton an MI6 [British foreign intelligence] officer to do counter-intelligence in Brussels. But is he there to catch spies or to spy on what Ashton is doing?" he added.

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