Thursday

23rd Feb 2017

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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • 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

Don't blame Trump for Europe's insecurity

Europe's security architecture was already showing cracks well before Trump's arrival and requires urgent repair work whether he had won or not.

News in Brief

  1. WTO says Russian pork ban was illegal
  2. Belgian nuclear plant made 'significant progress' on safety
  3. Report: Commission gauging EU support for Poland sanctions
  4. Irish PM expected to quit amid police scandal
  5. After Brexit vote, 100,000 UK firms registered in Ireland
  6. Bayrou to support Macron in French presidential election
  7. British by-election tests Ukip strength after Brexit
  8. Romanian parliament buries controversial corruption decree

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. QS World MBA TourMeet with Leading International Business Schools in Paris on March 4th
  2. Malta EU 2017Economic Governance: Agreement Reached on Structural Reform Support Programme for Member States
  3. Socialists & DemocratsWomen Have to Work Ten Years Longer to Match Lifetime Earnings of Men
  4. Counter BalanceTrans-Adriatic Pipeline Is a Major Risk for Banks, Warns New Analysis
  5. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  6. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  7. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  8. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  10. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations
  11. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  12. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year