Friday

22nd Jun 2018

Ashton makes concessions to parliament on diplomatic service

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has offered a series of concessions to MEPs in a bid to get them to sign up to the details of the new diplomatic service, but some parliamentary demands remain unanswered.

In a speech before the foreign affairs committee on Tuesday (24 March), Ms Ashton promised the house full budgetary oversight over the service, including signing off on its yearly budget, a point which occupies first place on the parliament's wishlist.

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.

... our join as a group

  • German centre-right MEP Elmar Brok (l) referred to a"spider" sitting at the top of a cobweb (Photo: European Parliament)

"There is no question of the accountability of the service in financial terms to the European Parliament," she said.

The British peer, who has to build a service which satisfies the demands of member states, the European Commission and the parliament, also appeared to suggest that MEPs will get their wish for budgetary oversight on separate EU missions.

At the moment, the parliament agrees a lump sum for EU foreign policy expenditure but has no idea how it is divided up.

"It's incredible. There is no budget line for our mission in Somalia. We don't know how much has been spent in Somalia on staff, on building, etc. It's very opaque," said German Green MEP Franziska Brantner before the parliamentary hearing.

However, Ms Ashton said: "There is no longer a 'gentlemen's agreement' to limit parliamentary insight and control," referring to a decades-old pact where the parliament and council have a 'don't look' policy when it comes to each other's internal spending practices.

VIPs abroad

Playing to MEPs' desire to be treated as VIPs, especially when travelling abroad, the high representative also promised that "all delegations in the EEAS (European External Action Service) will be instructed to support official visits by members of the EP."

The EU's 136 foreign delegations will also have a "point of contact" for the parliament, while the heads of delegations will be at parliament's "disposal" when the assembly is examining issues relating to the country in question.

MEPs will also be entitled to an "informal exchange of views" with those appointed to be heads of delegations before they take up their job. Joao Vale de Almeida, whose nomination to the Washington embassy sparked controversy for leaving member states out of the loop, will meet MEPs in the "near future," Ms Ashton promised.

The two-hour-long hearing with MEPs was a largely good-natured affair, with deputies proving to be a lesser adversary than the European Commission when it comes to what should be contained in the diplomatic service.

Deputies back including humanitarian aid, development policy and neighbourhood policy in the service, making it as "broad" as possible. The commission has been fighting to keep to control over as many policy areas as it can.

Open questions

Some of the issues MEPs raised remained unanswered, however.

Parliamentarians have spoken out against an all-powerful secretary general of the service, as recently suggested by Ms Ashton. German centre-right MEP Elmar Brok referred to a "spider" sitting at the top of a web, with deputies believing that the person will exercise too much control without any political accountability.

MEPs are also concerned about the level of representation for Ms Ashton's deputies. They reject the idea of her being deputised by a civil servant, believing that her deputies must be political appointees. They particularly do not want a civil servant standing in for Ms Ashton when it comes to relations with the parliament.

They also want to see more political accountability for the service's military wing.

These issues remained open on Tuesday, with the top diplomat suggesting they will have to be discussed by representatives from the commission, the council and parliament round a table in future.

Ms Ashton is planning to present a formal proposal for the structure by the end of next week. MEPs, who have a de facto veto, given their right of co-decision on staff and budgetary issues, believe it will be at least June before the technical questions allowing the establishment of the service are resolved. Some of have suggested the discussions may last until the early autumn.

Opinion

Europe's tech race - trying to keep pace with US and China

There is not a single European company among the world's top 10 computer hardware companies. Within the EU, Germany and Sweden rank among world leaders, but Bulgaria and Slovakia among the worst-performing developed nations.

Greece and creditors proclaim 'end of crisis'

After late-night talks, the Eurogroup agreed on a €15bn disbursement and debt relief measures for Greece, while setting out a tight monitoring when the bailout ends in August.

Greece and creditors proclaim 'end of crisis'

After late-night talks, the Eurogroup agreed on a €15bn disbursement and debt relief measures for Greece, while setting out a tight monitoring when the bailout ends in August.

News in Brief

  1. Venice Commission: Hungary should repeal NGO law
  2. Trump threatens to slap 20 percent tariff on EU cars
  3. EU closes deficit procedure against France
  4. Romania's ruling party leader gets jail sentence
  5. EU states defer individual decisions on asylum reforms
  6. Commission opens case on Qatar gas flow
  7. EU adopts posted workers directive
  8. EU leaders to call for 'coordinated plan' on AI

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMHRMI Launches Lawsuits Against Individuals and Countries Involved in Changing Macedonia's Name
  3. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  4. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  6. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  10. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  11. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network

Latest News

  1. Migration row at centre of EU summit This Week
  2. Merkel's woes cast shadow on EU's future
  3. Europe's tech race - trying to keep pace with US and China
  4. Merkel and Juncker's mini-summit risks fiasco
  5. Greece and creditors proclaim 'end of crisis'
  6. How a US firm pushed for EU €2.1trn pension fund
  7. Commission defends Africa migrant plan ahead of summit
  8. Bavaria hijacks EU migration talks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  2. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  4. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  7. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  9. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  10. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  12. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us