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21st Jun 2021

Ashton announces first tranche of appointees to new service

  • Beijing was among the most sought-after posts (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced the first tranche of EU ambassadors within the new diplomatic service on Wednesday (15 September) with the prized China posting going to a German diplomat.

The posts were advertised in March. Since then, the appointment process has been under the watchful eye of member states keen to make sure Ms Ashton toes the line on two main points - balancing the number of national and EU officials appointed to the service and making sure the under-represented eastern European states get a look in too.

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Of the 28 heads of delegation and one deputy head named to date, 13 appointments are national diplomats and 16 are EU officials. Four of the appointees are from new member states while 22 of the posts went to men and seven to women.

"I believe I have appointed the best people for the right jobs," said Ms Ashton adding that she is confident they will do a "really great job."

The top strategic post of EU ambassador to Bejing went to Markus Ederer, a career diplomat currently heading the planning unit in the German foreign ministry.

Austria's Hans Dietmar Schweisgut, currently the country's ambassador to the EU, scooped Tokyo, while Dutch diplomat Roeland van de Geer, who currently serves as EU Special Representative for the Great Lakes region, will head to South Africa.

Of the newer member states, Poland won both South Korea and Jordan, a Bulgarian will head to Georgia and a Lithuanian diplomat was earlier in the year nominated for Afghanistan.

Anticipating criticism that eastern countries are still too under-represented, Ms Ashton noted that this is only the "first round" of appointments and subsequent rounds will "see Europe unfold."

Sources close to Ms Ashton noted there were clusters of member states interested in certain jobs. While old member states battled for jobs in Asia, most new member states - 12 since 2004 - tried to snag jobs with neighbouring counties, with several competing for each of the available posts.

Meanwhile, posts in African, Carribean and Pacific countries were largely ignored by national governments and most of them went to EU officials.

The Brazil and Iraq posts as well as the deputy ambassador to Washington will all be re-advertised as "suitable" candidates were not found.

The lengthy application process requires candidates to first get their names on a shortlist for an interview. If they then make it through the interview, they are put on a second shortlist to see Ms Ashton who then makes a final decision.

Among the other new EU ambassadors are five Spaniards, (Argentina, a deputy in China, Angola, Namibia, Guinea-Bissau), three French (the Philippines, Chad, Zambia), three Irish (Bangladesh, Botswana, Mozambique), and two Italians (Albania, Uganda).

Although sources close to Ms Ashton stressed that the "nationality of the person is not actually relevant" and that member states have had a tendency to see the process in terms of national prestige.

This was reflected in questions by journalists. A Slovene journalist wanted to know if Ljubljana should "bother" to apply again for still-open post in Bosnia after having failed to secure a looked-for post in the western Balkans. An Irish journalist queried whether the fact that only Irish officials and no diplomats were appointed was a reflection on the country's foreign ministry.

The next set of posts in the offing are to Bosnia as well as to the UN and the WTO offices in Geneva.

Keenly awaited are also the top nominations to the diplomatic service's headquarters in Brussels. But these appointments - expected to go to a French person, an Irish person, a German and a Pole – cannot be made until the European Parliament gives the go ahead on staff and budget rules.

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