Thursday

9th Jul 2020

EU diplomatic service may be ready in December

  • December is seen as the "best case scenario" (Photo: European Commission)

Officials working on the creation of the EU's diplomatic service believe it could be on its feet by 1 December, a symbolic date marking the first anniversary of the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, but several months later than the original timetable.

The lengthy delay has been due to the difficulties of getting agreement from all the different sides - member states, the European Commission and MEPs - on the new body, which is meant to give coherency to EU foreign policy.

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The European Parliament is last party still to agree to the blueprint for the corps, first published by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in March and endorsed by the commission and member states the following month.

Sources close to the negotiations, due to continue on Tuesday (8 June), believe that MEPs may be ready to signal their broad agreement on Thursday at a meeting of the EU assembly's political leaders.

"At this stage, what success would look like is some sort of signal from the conference of presidents [on Thursday] that this is the right ball park and these are the 'grandes lignes' of the eventual deal," said the contact, adding that "talks have been going well."

This would allow Ms Ashton to start advertising some of the senior jobs that are coming up for grabs.

These include 32 heads of delegation to be filled in July and a further 22 such jobs, part of the 2011 rotation of delegation heads, to be decided in November.

A decision also has to be taken on the EU's 11 special representatives (EUSRs) to regions such as central Asia and countries such as Sudan. The group's mandate, already extended once, runs out at the end of August. Ms Ashton is keen to rejig the system, keeping some special envoys and creating new ones, but scrapping others where the job could equally be done by the heads of the EU embassies.

"On a best-case scenario, we would be making senior appointments in September some time and that means ... that you're looking at trying to get a service up and running in some form by the anniversary of the entry into force of the [Lisbon] treaty," the source close to the EU talks said.

Three main areas still need to be settled with MEPs before the deal can be put to bed.

The questions are who should deputise the busy Ms Ashton in her absence, whether the service should be part of the commission or a stand-alone institution and the wording of a declaration on political accountability.

MEPs have won some important concessions in recent months, using their threat of a veto on the legal changes to EU budget and staff rules needed to set up the service.

At their behest, the service will no longer have an all-powerful secretary general; more MEPs will have access to secret documents and there will be clearer guarantees on budget accountability.

So far MEPs have said they will only agree to the service blueprint as part of a package, including amending the rules on staff, finances and the institutional link to the commission. But beyond the parliament, others imply that MEPs have little political credit left.

EU summit pressure

The pressure is on to have the parliament show its hand and sign up to an agreement even if all elements of the package have not be finally agreed.

"We do have a European Council coming up [on 17-18 June]. It will have important issues on its agenda and I would think this is not an issue it wants on its agenda. It would want to know that this is still on track," the contact close to the negotiations said.

"If you get into agreeing a package in autumn, well how long is a piece of string? Then you are in a position which is not good for the European Union as a whole."

An European Parliament official close to the talks expressed irritation that parliament is being portrayed as dragging its feet.

"We only got the 10-point political declaration [on accountability] from [Ms Ashton] three weeks ago when we asked for for it three months ago," said the official.

He also noted that while there have been several of these talks at technical level, the EU foreign policy chief has only herself been present once. "There are several issues that are important to us still open," he added.

The service, once fully up and running, is expected to have between 6,000 and 7,000 personnel. Between now and 2013, some 850 jobs will be open for applications.

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