Saturday

28th May 2022

MEPs to call for EU diplomatic college

  • Members of the fledgling diplomatic service should "think European" (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Parliament is later this morning set to call for the establishment of a European diplomatic college as the EU looks to firm up its presence on the international stage with a more coherent foreign policy.

The proposal, contained in a parliament report on the current negotiations to establish a European diplomatic service, suggests such a college would provide "appropriate training" in consular procedures, diplomacy and international relations "including knowledge and the history and workings of the European Union."

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European external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero Waldner called it a "promising idea" as members of the fledgling diplomatic service, at least a third of whom will be directly seconded from national ministries, should "think European."

"We need to create a European diplomatic culture and an esprit de corps," said the commissioner, while debating the report with MEPs on Wednesday (21 October).

There is also a call to let EU commission delegations, which will become union embassies under the Lisbon Treaty, provide consular services for EU citizens in third countries - something one EU analyst noted may become popular as member states scale back their consular services abroad due to costs.

The wider report by German centre-right MEP Elmar Brok anticipates the internal institutional problems of the EU that could be created by the diplomatic service, a part of the new Lisbon Treaty, and makes a series of demands including that the service be a part of the European commission and part of the EU budget, moves that would automatically grant MEPs greater scrutiny rights.

While the Swedish EU presidency as well as commissioner Ferrero-Waldner were careful to point to the importance of democratic oversight and close cooperation with the parliament, they shied away from committing the new set-up to being part of the general EU budget.

The idea is deeply unpopular with member states who fear that their exclusive powers in foreign policy will be eroded

For her part Swedish EU minister Cecilia Malmstrom said that Stockholm will be ready to present a series of "very useful ideas" on the service to a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels next week. Giving a few details of the ongoing negotiations between member states about what the service should look like, she said the commission would maintain "overall responsibility" for trade, aid and enlargement issues.

The Lisbon Treaty is unclear on the scope of the service and the foreign minister. This has prompted fears that the commission will be weakened as its experts leave to fill the ranks of the diplomatic service and it is stripped of its powers in key external policy areas such as trade.

The service, which member states are hoping to have set up by April next year, has prompted job fears among commission staff, 400 of whom attended a talk last week by the commission's secretary general on the issue.

"The career path in the commission is quite clear," an official in the external relations unit told EUobserver adding "but no one is sure what a transfer to the service will mean."

The setting up of the diplomatic service could imply a change to the staff regulations, the rules governing internal management of the EU institutions including the choosing of staff and the creation of new jobs. This would be something that would need to be decided with the European Parliament, opening a new point of leverage for deputies trying to shape the service.

While the majority of deputies spoke out in favour of the report during Wednesday's debate, some deputies said the diplomatic service will mean foreign policy is gradually taken away from member states.

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