23rd Oct 2016

No 'Big Bang' for EU foreign service, says Solana

  • EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana says diplomats abroad will represent all 27 member states (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

The EU's planned foreign service should be established gradually and not in a 'Big Bang', if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified after a second Irish referendum, the bloc's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said on Monday.

With only a few months left to go on the job, Mr Solana held a speech outlining his foreign policy vision for the European Union, including the perspective of creating a common foreign service should the Lisbon Treaty come into force after Ireland holds a second referendum and Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic complete the ratification process.

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"The foreign service is contemplated in the treaty as an effort of the member states to create a global common diplomacy. I like to think that in time we will be one of the most important diplomacies in the world, along with US, China and other big players in the world," he said.

Mr Solana, who has been the Union's first high representative for foreign and security policy for the past ten years, said the bloc's foreign service would consist of national and EU diplomats.

"I would recommend that it won't be a Big Bang – it has to be well done, member states need to prepare the people, and it probably would be better if this takes some time."

Asked how national diplomats would be selected, Mr Solana said the diplomatic teams would be mixed and selected by a board, so that no capital would become "the property" of a specific member state.

"Since 1999, we have already had a policy unit in the house representing different countries with diplomats from different levels, which have been appointed to create the embryo of common thinking of the EU on foreign and crisis management policy," he added.

The so-called External European Action Service (EEAS) would be a separate legal entity, and thus have its own budget.

A former Belgian ambassador present in the room however highlighted the problems of this future external service, noting there is no "fully fledged common policy on all the international issues". Member states are also unlikely to abandon their bilateral agendas, he pointed out.

Mr Solana admitted that it would "take some time" for member states who traditionally have special relations with a given country, such as Belgium with its former colony, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"I can imagine very well to have a common policy vis-à-vis the Congo in which your country feels represented and comfortable. Maybe your country at a given moment can give advice and help that will not break the unity of the collective," he said.

But for the foreign policy chief, the main problem is not so much the special ties with a given country, as "ideological" and "conceptual" issues.

One recent example of divergent EU foreign policy messages occurre in April when Czech leader Mirek Topolanek, then chairing the presidency of the EU, clashed with external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner over EU-Israel relations.

Ms Waldner had said that an upgrade to relations between the two sides would remain frozen until Israel takes steps to repair the peace process with Palestinians – a statement lambasted by Mr Topolanek as "really hasty" and not to be attributed "more weight than just a statement by a commissioner."

The upgrade still remains frozen, however.

Without referring to any specific EU presidency, Mr Solana said that the current six-month rotating system "adds some element of difficulty" and believed it would be easier for foreign partners once the Lisbon Treaty comes into force and establishes a permanent EU president for two and a half years.

Two names have been floated so far to become the EU's first president – former British prime minister Tony Blair and former Spanish premier Felipe Gonzalez.

Mr Solana, himself a Spaniard, rejected claims of an "Iberian overload" at the helm of the EU in 2010 if Mr Gonzalez gets picked. The president of the European Commission will likely to continue to be Jose Manuel Barroso, a Portuguese politician, while Spain will chair the ministers meetings in the first six months of the year.

If the Lisbon Treaty comes into force, Mr Solana's successor would have a more prominent role, merging his current task with those of the external relations commissioner. The post would still not be called EU foreign minister, thought to be too provocative for many countries, but "High Representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy."

Some names are already been spoken of for the job, including the foreign ministers of Sweden and Italy, Carl Bildt and Franco Frattini, as well as enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn, who hails from from Finland.


Cyprus seeks EU support on reunification

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