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20th Jan 2022

Poland sets out vision for EU diplomatic corps

Poland is keen for the EU's new diplomatic corps to be a unique type of institution, to take half its staff from national capitals and to gobble up parts of the European Commission's development department.

The proposals - obtained by EUobserver - were put forward in a two page-long paper dated 5 October and are currently doing the rounds in Brussels together with competing ideas from other member states.

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  • The consummate European diplomat of a bygone age - from the painting The Ambassadors, by Hans Holbein in 1533 (Photo: National Art Gallery, London)

The Polish paper calls for the European External Action Service (EEAS) to be "a sui generis institution similar to an executive agency" instead of a normal EU institution such as the EU parliament or the commission itself.

EU executive agencies, such as the European Research Council or the Agency for Health and Consumers, are set up for a fixed period of time, do not have their own section in the EU budget and have their formal seat in Brussels or Luxembourg.

In a sign of just how much room for interpretation is left in the Lisbon Treaty, the Polish paper says the EEAS should handle EU foreign, security and defence policy and - at a later stage - some types of consular work "such as consular assistance or common visa application centres." It should not deal with trade, enlargement or development.

In terms of staff, 50 percent of personnel are to come from member states and 50 percent from the commission and from the Council, the Brussels-based secretariat which prepares EU member states' regular meetings.

Despite staying out of development policy, the EEAS should poach the commission's experts on the 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries which currently fall under the development portfolio, on top of the 6,000 or so commission staff who work in the foreign relations department.

The Polish paper makes clear who will be in charge despite the commission's sacrifice.

"Poland is of the opinion that in the process of creation of the EEAS, both in the planning and implementation phase, it is the member states which should play the key role."

Quarterly human resources reports and regular staff turnover are to ensure that the diplomatic corps is not run by French, German and British officials to the detriment of smaller or newer EU countries.

The race of the least encumbered

Several names have been linked with the powerful new post of EU foreign minister, who is to head up the diplomatic service. But each one of the unofficial candidates has something going against them.

UK foreign minister David Miliband is on the young-ish side and comes from an EU-lukewarm country.

Britain's former EU commissioner for foreign relations, Chris Patten, is highly confrontational on Russia and Israel. Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt is guilty of the same crime. And the Dutch former head of Nato, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, oversaw a historic low in Nato-Russia relations.

On the other hand, Germany's ex-foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is too Russia-friendly by half for the former Communist EU states.

The candidate with the least amount of negative baggage is Finland's outgoing EU commissioner for enlargement, Olli Rehn. Mr Rehn has upset nobody in the past five years, knows how Brussels works, would reassure pro-enlargement states such as Poland and comes from a country which knows how to get along with Russia.

He is not, however, from the centre-left political family, which is claiming the post for one of its own.

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