Thursday

27th Feb 2020

EU diplomats should target India and China, ministers say

  • Mr Miliband (l) is standing by Ms Ashton (r) to help her fight off the commission (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The UK and Sweden have said the EU should build bigger embassies in up-and-coming capitals such as New Delhi and warned EU institutions not to hog senior posts in the bloc's new diplomatic service.

British foreign minister David Miliband and his Swedish counterpart, Carl Bildt, in a joint letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Wednesday (3 March) urged the bloc to create "larger and more political" delegations in the capitals of India, Pakistan, China, Brasil and Indonesia.

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"Although our relationship with the US will remain the most important, we firmly believe that our ability to be part of shaping the world of tomorrow is critically dependent on our ability to deepen and broaden our relationship with these states," they said.

The letter was written ahead of an informal EU foreign ministers' meeting on Friday (5 March) in Cordoba, Spain, which is to debate the structure of the union's new External Action Service (EAS).

Ms Ashton is planning to put forward her final EAS proposal at the end of March.

The list of five countries in the letter is merely indicative, with EU diplomats saying that Russia and South Africa are also being targeted for a meaty EU presence.

On a related topic, the Miliband-Bildt letter urged Ms Ashton to make sure that member states' diplomats get their fair share of posts in the new service.

It said future EAS recruitment procedures should be "transparent and based on merit" and voiced "concern" that EU Council and European Commission officials are holding on to top EU external relations jobs in the run-up to the EAS launch.

"It is important that you can take the lead in the overall management of the network of delegations," the two men told Ms Ashton. "It [the EAS] must have the keys to its own house."

Ms Ashton was made to look weak by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso last month when he appointed an old Portuguese friend to run the EU's prestigious Washington delegation, bypassing the new foreign relations chief.

Another plum job, the head of the EU mission to the UN in New York, is currently up for grabs.

Technically speaking, the commission has the right to put one of its officials in place because the vacancy came up before the Lisbon Treaty was in force. But member states expect Ms Ashton to take charge by organising an open contest including candidates from EU capitals.

EU's 'brightest and best'

The Miliband-Bildt letter exposes the conflict between member states and the EU institutions over who will take the lead in the EAS.

An EU diplomat told EUobserver that Sweden and France at a meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday said they will stop attacking Ms Ashton in the press in order to help her stand up to commission pressure.

On paper, as stated in the Miliband-Bildt letter, everybody wants the "brightest and best" people to run the EAS in an impartial way.

But in practice, there is just as much conflict between individual member states as with the EU commission over who will get the top jobs.

A French diplomat and a German official are currently in the running to become EAS secretary general, a post envisaged by Ms Ashton, in order to offset the existing number of senior Brits.

But with two deputy secretary general jobs also to come up for grabs, smaller member states are equally jostling for position: "A number of countries don't like what is happening - that the three big ones are trying to forge deals on who gets what," an EU diplomat from a small member state told this website.

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