Thursday

25th Aug 2016

New EU states make bid for more diplomatic clout

  • Visegrad Castle: The EC began in 1957 but local kings have been meeting in Visegrad since 1335 (Photo: David Spender)

Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have warned that member states could disengage from EU foreign policy unless they get a fair share of power in its new diplomatic corps.

"The eventual lack of [member states'] involvement in shaping and implementing policies could lead to the loss of their interest in EU foreign policy and could even result in a widening gap between EU and national policies," the group of four countries said in an informal paper circulated in Brussels late last month.

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The so-called Visegrad states, named after a historic meeting place in Hungary, also urged the established EU powers to make way for newer EU members in the European External Action Service (EEAS).

"We deem it necessary to ensure an adequate geographical balance and a meaningful presence of nationals from all EU member states in order to ensure that the service could draw from a wide variety of diplomatic culture and experience," the paper said.

"Since geographical balance is a basic ingredient of the EEAS, it should be incorporated in the staff regulation as a binding principle ...[and] requires regular monitoring through ...e.g. yearly reports," it added.

Austria, the Baltic countries, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Portugal, Romania and Slovenia have broadly allied themselves with the position over the past two weeks.

The Visegrad group is keen to grab more influence in Brussels: If the EU goes ahead with suggestions to hold informal summits 10 times a year, the Visegrad countries aim to have a prime minister-level meeting before each one. Visegrad EU ambassadors already meet on a monthly basis. Until 2014, the group has the same EU voting power as Germany and France put together.

The Visegrad paper targets two thorny issues in the creation of the diplomatic corps.

On the one hand, the European Commission has 1,657 foreign relations officials ready to be transferred en bloc into the service, with the incumbents potentially keeping the best posts while member states' diplomats gradually filter in.

On the other hand, just 117 of the commission officials come from new EU countries, meaning that the corps will inherit a severe geographic skew.

A senior diplomat from one of the Visegrad countries endorsed a solution put forward by Malta, the EU's smallest member. The Maltese idea would see all EEAS posts at head-of-unit level or above put to an open competition to EU diplomats and EU officials from day one of the institution's birth.

The appointments would be decided by interview panels composed of delegates from the office of the EU foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, the commission and member states, with Ms Ashton to have the final word.

"You can imagine that there is resistance to this in the commission," the contact said.

"As thing stand, Spain has three heads of delegation in South America [Chile, Cuba and Venezuela]. But this region is no longer a Spanish colony. You could argue that they have some special expertise. If the EEAS posts were open to competition, then the new countries' expertise would also shine through in places like Belarus."

Narrowing the field of competition, the foreign ministers of Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania and Cyprus in a letter to Ms Ashton last week said that: "In the initial phase, EEAS posts should not be opened to officials from the European Parliament."

EU leaders last year called for the diplomatic service's rulebook to be agreed by April. But diplomats are currently aiming at the final plenary of the EU parliament before its summer recess, on 5 July, as a more realistic date.

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