11th Jul 2020

Deal reached on diplomatic service

EU officials have reached agreement on the shape of the Union's diplomatic service, after several months of hard negotiation.

Meeting in Madrid on Monday (21 June), EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and deputies from the European Parliament sealed a deal on the nature and content of the new corps, meant to give coherency to the Union's external policy.

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  • EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (c) and deputies from the European Parliament sealed a deal on the nature and content of the new corps (Photo: European Parliament)

"We should not underestimate how important today's decision is (...). This means we can now move forward with the service and have it operational by the autumn." said Ms Ashton after the lengthy meeting in the Spanish capital.

The news is something of a personal boon for Ms Ashton, an unlikely nominee to the post of EU's chief of diplomacy last year.

The foreign policy challenges she has faced since taking up the position on 1 December have been compounded by her relative lack of experience but also by not having a wide range of policy experts on whose opinion she could quickly draw.

Although the blueprint was signed off by member states and the European Commission in April, the parliament, represented by three deputies, were able to win important modifications due to their decision-making clout on staffing and financing the outfit.

The deal - the details of which are to be announced on Tuesday - is set to be endorsed by the parliament as a whole next month and then by EU foreign ministers meeting 26 July.

This will allow Ms Ashton to begin making appointments to the service, expected to have up to 8,000 people once it is fully up and running.

The idea for a diplomatic service was raised 10 years ago by then German foreign minister Joschka Fischer. Work on the corps got under way in earnest with the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty towards the end of 2009.

But negotiations were complicated by the need to get several actors on board, including member states and the European Commission, with the most profound dividing line the extent to which the service should be intergovernmental or more communitarian in nature.

An EU parliament official stressed that MEPs had managed to preserve the communitarian aspect of the service by ensuring budgetary oversight, that most of its staff will come from the EU institutions rather than directly from member states and that senior appointees will be politically accountable to the parliament when carrying out their duties.

Ms Ashton said the goal of the service is to meet "the challenges of foreign policy in the 21st century."

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