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21st Jun 2021

EU diplomatic corps risks months-long delay

  • The EU states are not expected to raise objections to Ms Ashton's vision on the EAS structure on Thursday (Photo: Wikipedia)

EU member states are close to agreement on the internal architecture of the bloc's new diplomatic corps, but MEPs are threatening to delay the decision-making process if their ideas are brushed aside.

According to the latest organigram given by the office of EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton to EU diplomats on Wednesday (17 March), the External Action Service (EAS) will see her delegate all day-to-day work to a secretary general and his two deputies.

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Ms Ashton is to float above the structure with her private cabinet, 11 special envoys and their advisors in a diplomatic taskforce numbering some 300 people.

The secretary general will command six directorates; one dealing with budget and personnel, one with "thematic" issues such as human rights and the UN, and four branches split along geographic lines.

He will take charge of the EU's intelligence sharing bureau, SitCen, and three departments handling the EU's military and civilian missions. He will also run three semi-autonomous cells: a legal unit, an audit and inspections unit and a strategic policy planning branch.

The secretary general's domain will number a few thousand people.

One of his deputy secretary generals is to deal with kitchen-sink matters, such as relations with the EU institutions. The second one will run around in Ms Ashton's place to attend second-rank events. He will also liaise with the Political and Security Committee, an EU Council body composed of senior EU diplomats which makes decisions on security matters.

Member states' EU ambassadors are to debate the organigram at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

The draft blueprint is not expected to elicit a dispute. But the meeting will also debate thornier EAS issues, such as: which parts of the European Commission's budget should be gobbled up by the new institution and what will be the chain of command for heads of EU foreign delegations, which will, in many cases, run EU commission projects, as well as acting as Ms Ashton's envoys.

"The $64,000 question is how can we have an EU foreign policy that is systematic, that there is really one European voice?" an EU diplomat said.

If EU states, Ms Ashton and the EU commission come to terms in the next few weeks, the final EAS blueprint could be approved by EU foreign ministers in April, as foreseen in the original schedule.

MEPs ready to roar

MEPs are however already talking about a final agreement as late as July or September, given their own competing ideas on the EAS structure and mandate.

A group of nine senior MEPs calling itself the "Friends of the EAS" has met three times in Brussels so far to put forward its ideas to Ms Ashton's advisors in the hope of influencing the process in an informal way.

The MEPs' blueprint would like to see Ms Ashton have direct power over SitCen, the strategic policy planning unit and financial audits, weakening the secretary general. It would also like to see her command two "deputy head representatives" who would be senior politicians from EU member states, with the deputy secretary generals confined to the Brussels kitchen sink.

Among other ideas, the MEPs are keen to establish quotas for EAS staff coming from the newer EU states.

"The parliament has the legal power of co-decision over the EAS' staff and pay rules, so this gives it quite a lot of leverage," Polish centre-right MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, a member of the Friends of the EAS panel, said. "It may happen that the decision-making process will take a lot longer than people imagine."

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