Wednesday

21st Nov 2018

Ashton keen to axe Congo conflict envoy

  • Congo Mine. Mineral wealth, elections, guerrilla fighters and mass rape make for an explosive combination (Photo: ENOUGH project)

EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton is keen to cut the post of EU Special Representative (EUSR) to the Great Lakes in Africa at a turbulent time in the region.

According to an informal paper put forward by her office last month and seen by EUobserver, the Great Lakes position, currently filled by Dutch diplomat Roeland van de Geer, is to be terminated and its work carried out by Ashton's own official, former British diplomat Nicholas Westcott, instead.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The move is part of a wider shake-up of the EUSR group begun by Ashton one year ago.

The changes have already seen the deletion of EUSRs for Macedonia and Moldova. Ashton originally wanted to cut the Middle East and the South Caucasus posts as well, but smaller member states, including some Nordic countries, opposed the move.

Under the April blueprint the Middle East envoy is to get a new mandate. EU sources say this will involve a stronger focus on Arab-Israeli peace talks and giving "political guidance" to Ashton's diplomats in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The EUSR office for the Georgia-Russia conflict is to be merged with the South Caucasus post covering Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

The Georgia-Russia office is currently filled by French diplomat Pierre Morel, who is also the EUSR for Central Asia, while the old South Caucasus post is empty. Morel is set to keep the Central Asia job only, with a new South Caucasus envoy to be recruited by 1 September.

Meanwhile, a new EUSR is to be created to help implement the EU's Horn of Africa strategy on pirates in Somalia. The other EUSRs - to Afghanistan, the African Union, Bosnia, Kosovo and Sudan - are to stay in place.

The South Caucasus change would be a mini-defeat for France.

An EU diplomat said Morel got the Georgia job because France wanted to stay in charge of EU diplomacy on the conflict after President Nicolas Sarkozy's interventions in Moscow and Tbilisi in 2008: "This mandate should never have been created. It only exists because France wanted a Frenchman there handling the Sarkozy legacy."

But the Great Lakes change is causing the most controversy.

One EU diplomat said the EUSR head-chopping is based more on turf-wars in Brussels than on foreign policy: "This is about Ashton trying to establish her authority. The EUSRs were set up by Solana [Ashton's predecessor] and they report primarily to the member states, not to her. They are not 'her men'."

NGO contacts report that Belgium and Germany want to keep the Great Lakes post for one more year until Westcott gets up to speed.

The proposed change comes at a turbulent time in the region. Elections are due in the Democratic Republic of Congo in November. There is growing competition for rare-earth minerals, a resurgence in attacks by Rwanda rebel group the FDLR and a shocking level of sexual violence against women.

"Terminating the mandate of the EUSR for the Great Lakes now sends a message of EU disengagement at a critical moment," Kris Berwouts, the director of the Brussels-based NGO group EurAC, said in a written statement for EUobserver.

"Without an EUSR for the Great Lakes the regional dimension of conflicts and poverty will be ignored by the EU and the national approaches will be incomplete," Thierry Vircoulon, central Africa director for the International Crisis Group, a prominent think-tank, said.

Investigation

Congo fatigue: EU funding in the heart of Africa

The Democratic Republic of Congo was last year the largest recipient of EU support among ACP states. But critics say this approach has failed, drawing a question mark over the EU's next step.

Exclusive

EU parliament to renege on transparency promises

Internal legal European parliament documents circulated Tuesday, and seen by EUobserver, rule it illegal to force MEPs to meet only registered lobbyists. The opinion will likely render a larger effort to create a mandatory register for lobbyists null and void.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary grants asylum to ex-Macedonia PM
  2. UK court rules against government in Article 50 case
  3. May to meet Juncker on Wednesday to finalise Brexit deal
  4. Future of EU's Mediterranean naval mission in doubt
  5. EU budget talks for 2019 collapse
  6. EU mulls new Russia sanctions over Ukraine 'elections'
  7. EU farm chief 'confident' sugar prices will recover
  8. Researcher: EU expert groups still imbalanced and opaque

Opinion

Dodgy regime lobbying is below the EU's radar

In Brussels, PR professionals and lobbying consultants are working for some of the world's most autocratic regimes. And we have no way of knowing for sure who they are, how much they are paid, or what they are up to.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Boycott threats mount on eve of Interpol election
  2. EU parliament to renege on transparency promises
  3. Cyprus and Greece to create EU spy academy
  4. MEPs likely to delay vote on greater transparency
  5. Cold shoulder for Franco-German euro budget plan
  6. Whistleblower: Danske Bank gag stops me telling more
  7. Spain raises Gibraltar, as EU and UK talk post-2020 relationship
  8. Panic is not answer to EU's security challenges

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us