Thursday

4th Mar 2021

EU commission creates new foreign policy cell

  • Mogherini is moving the office back under the EU commission's wing (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The EU foreign relations chief is to move her office back to the European Commission to steer a cell of top officials on external policy.

The new commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, set out the plan in a “mission letter” to the foreign relations head, Federica Mogherini, published on Wednesday (10 September).

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He said: “To liaise more effectively with the other members of the college, following your suggestion, you will have your headquarters in the Berlaymont, and the commission will put a cabinet of an appropriate size at your disposal, about half of which will be commission officials”.

He added that Mogherini will chair a new “Commissioners’ Group on External Action” that will meet “at least once a month”.

He listed seven portfolios that “have a strong external dimension”.

The list includes: neighbourhood and enlargement negotiations; trade; development; humanitarian aid; climate action and energy; transport; and migration.

He also said the commission will continue to run Mogherini’s human resources and will retain control over the vast majority of EU external budgets.

Mogherini’s predecessor, Catherine Ashton, moved her cabinet out of the Berlaymont, the commission HQ, across the road to the EU foreign service’s €12-million-a-year “Axa” building in 2012.

Her spokesman said at the time “it will facilitate contacts between the staff members … reinforce the team spirit and the corporate identity of the EEAS [the European External Action Service]”.

She was also meant to chair a group of commissioners with external-type dossiers. But it met just five times in five years and she did not go to any of the meetings.

EU sources on Wednesday said Mogherini’s u-turn is due to Juncker’s new hierarchy in which seven super-commissioners oversee the work of 20 juniors.

Asked if it amounts to a commission power-grab over the EEAS, which is an independent institution in the EU treaty, one diplomat said: “It’s not being done against anything. There’s no willingness to dismantle anything, on the contrary, she [Mogherini] can build on what Ashton has accomplished”.

Another source added: “It [the move] is purely symbolic”.

Meanwhile, Juncker’s letters to the Mogherini group spelled out his vision on EU foreign relations for the next five years.

He told Austria’s Johannes Hahn, on neighbourhood and enlargement, that: “following the extensive enlargement of the Union in the last decade, the next five years will be a period of consolidation, with no further enlargement taking place during our mandate”.

He also asked him to “pay particular attention to the situation in Ukraine”.

He tasked Sweden’s Cecilia Malmstrom (trade) with concluding negotiations on the EU-US free trade agreement.

He told Cyprus’ Chrystos Stylianides (humanitarian aid) and Greece’s Dmitris Avramopoulos (migration) to help secure EU borders against unwanted migrants. “We need to be able to put European Border Guard Teams into action quickly”, he said referring to border patrols organised by the EU’s immigration agency, Frontex.

Amid the threat of Russian gas cut-offs in winter, he told Spain’s Miguel Arias Canete, on climate and energy, to improve “Europe’s energy security by diversifying sources and routes of energy imports and combining our negotiating power [on gas purchases]”.

“If the price of energy from the east becomes too expensive, either in commercial or political terms, Europe should be able to switch swiftly to other supply channels. We need to be able to reverse energy flows when necessary,” Juncker said.

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