Thursday

9th Jul 2020

Ashton in last ditch attempt to get diplomatic service agreed next week

  • Ms Ashton and MEPs are in a power struggle over the service (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is engaged in a last-bid attempt to win a political agreement on the diplomatic service next week.

On Friday evening (11 June), she sent a letter to MEPs, the Spanish foreign minister and the EU institutional affairs commissioner to arrange "final" four-way talks to iron out the remaining differences on the new corps.

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With member states and the commission having agreed the blueprint in April, the remaining piece of the negotiating puzzle has to be filled by MEPs.

They are determined to ensure the communitarian nature of the diplomatic corps, which is supposed to give coherency and ready expertise to EU foreign policy.

Three open issues remain. MEPs want to attach the service to the European Commission, ensure coherency in development policy and make sure national diplomats from member states do not outnumber EU officials in the new body.

Ms Ashton's side believe the final shape can be agreed in a last meeting.

"We are making good progress towards reaching the political agreement which will allow for the establishment of the External Action Service. Agreement was tantalisingly close at Tuesday's [8 June] Quadrilogue," says the letter.

It goes on to make clear that Ms Ashton still wants to get service agreed ahead of Thursday, allowing EU leaders meeting that day to sign off the outline, freeing her up to begin staffing it.

However, something of a power play between the parliament and Ms Ashton is in evidence. The foreign policy chief claims to have indicated her "readiness" to meet on Friday (11 June). Deputies, who have already won several concessions on the service make-up, said they did not receive an invitation.

Putting the ball back in the MEPs' court, Ms Ashton suggests meeting Tuesday or Wednesday in Strasbourg or Friday in Brussels.

"The last European Council of the Spanish Presidency [on Thursday] provides an obvious focal point," the letter stresses.

Negotiators are keen to get the service up and running by the year's end - much later than the Spring timing originally foreseen. But the talks were complicated by the entirely new institutional beast being created and the need to get agreement from several parties.

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