28th Oct 2016


A close look at the EU foreign service staff reshuffle

  • Mogherini has diminished the disproportionate influence of member states (Photo:

Even though the latest personnel changes introduced by Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, were the results of the behind-the-closed-door deals between the European Commission and the EU External Action Service (EEAS), many of them move the EU’s diplomatic service in the right direction.

Mogherini was mandated by the EU Council to revamp the top-heavy EEAS by the end of 2015. In organisational terms, she visually rearranged the EEAS chart.

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.

  • EEAS building in EU district in Brussels (Photo: EUobserver)

But on closer inspection, Mogherini’s reforms appear to be much less extensive. Although she reordered the geographical and thematic directorates and slimmed down the administrative department, the number of top officials - four - remains the same .

The backgrounds and portfolios of Alain Le Roy, the French secretary general of the EEAS and his three deputies - German Helga Schmid, Spaniard Pedro Serrano and Swede Christian Leffler - also remain similar to what was before.

Structurally, Mogherini really shook things up only in the security policy, or CSDP section by putting the “defence ministry” part of EEAS on an equal footing with other sections - a move that the French had initially resisted.

At the lower level, through the annual rotation between the EEAS HQ and EU delegations and internal promotions, Mogherini decreased the number of directors from two to one by, for instance, dispatching some directors to head EU delegations (e.g. Gerhard Sabathil from Asia and Pacific to Seoul).

From now on, directors can deputise for their bosses, the managing directors, alleviating travel burdens and turf battles. If we include all senior posts, Mogherini cut down the overall number of EEAS managerial jobs from 34 (under her predecessor Catherine Ashton) to 30. This decrease is not a huge leap but represents a step forward.


The most significant changes took place thanks to personnel shenanigans with the European Commission.

It seems Mogherini might have arranged for an interchange between EEAS and commission officials by hiring Gianmarco Di Vita from the commission’s secretariat general and Lotte Knudsen from the aid bureau, DG Devco, in exchange for outgoing EEAS managing directors Hugues Mingarelli and Patrick Child, who may trade their places with the incoming commission executives.

Such reshuffles between EEAS and the commission should in fact be the rule, strengthening the EEAS-commission link and helping to foster a more cooperative environment between the institutions.

It is however a shame that these swaps were much more a product of behind-closed-doors personal deals arranged by Stefano Manservisi, Mogherini’s head of cabinet, rather than a result of transparent structural tradeoffs between EEAS and commission officials at equal levels that would be run by human resources departments in both organisations.

It remains to be seen whether the upcoming rotation to EU delegations will reflect similar inter-institutional political deals as the nominations of Markus Cornaro (former deputy Director General of DG Devco) to head the delegation in South Africa and Patrick Simonnet (former deputy head of unit in DG DEVCO) to lead the delegation in Iraq may suggest.

Ashton’s tenure was marked by competition among EU states to put as many of their nationals into as many key jobs in EEAS and delegations as possible.

Tackling imbalances

Under Mogherini, the overall composition of the EEAS management is evenly split (with two more posts to be filled) and with the very top ranks favouring EU officials (nine) over national diplomats (five).

So far, the Italians lead the way (as much as the Brits did under Ashton), followed by Germans and, perhaps surprisingly, Swedes and Austrians.

However, the French are obvious but remarkable losers of the personnel reshuffles: except for Le Roy, there is no other French diplomat in the top hierarchy of the EEAS.

Moreover, there remains a stark under-representation of member states that joined the EU after 2004. In fact, the situation has slightly deteriorated with the departure of Poland’s Maciej Popowski from the CSDP structures under Mogherini.

Even if the results are a product of political exchanges between the EEAS and the commission, Mogherini has tackled the organisational and staff imbalances in the EEAS.

She has diminished the disproportionate influence of member states on the EEAS and tilted back towards a better balance with supranational institutions.

But she should watch out that the EEAS does not move too close to the commission, as some member states have started to warn that she might risk alienating them along the way, potentially hampering the effectiveness of the EU’s external action.

Tereza Novotna is an academic at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles, where she studies the EU diplomatic service and its foreign delegations


Europe ready to tackle Greek debt relief

The Greek government has built and broadened alliances in EU institutions and member-states that acknowledge the need to restructure the debt and deliver another economic model for the eurozone.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersUN global sustainable development goals, integration, and security on agenda for Nordic Council Session 2016
  2. Taipei EU OfficeTaiwan Seeks to Join Fight against Global Warming
  3. ANCI LazioAnci Lazio Definetely has a lot to Celebrate This Year
  4. EU-China ForumDebating the Future of the EU-China Relations on 28 November in Prague
  5. COMECEMigrants: From Fear to Compassion
  6. Birdlife EuropeBusiness as Usual - Juncker Snubs Environment and Protects Broken CAP
  7. EFADraft Bill for a 2nd Scottish Independence Referendum
  8. UNICEFCalls on European Council to Address Plight of Refugee and Migrant Children
  9. ECTAJoin us on 9-10 November in Brussels and Discover the new EU Digital Landscape
  10. Access NowCan you Hear me now? Verizon’s Opportunity to Stand for Global Users
  11. Belgrade Security ForumMeaningful Dialogue Missing Not Only in the Balkans, but Throughout Europe
  12. EuropecheEU Fishing Sector Celebrates Sustainably Sourced Seafood in EU Parliament

Latest News

  1. Calais children abandoned at former camp site
  2. Greece to probe UN allegations of illegal returns
  3. Poland defies EU on rule of law
  4. Belgium breaks Ceta deadlock
  5. Left MEPs thwarting Dieselgate probe, say right MEPs
  6. Cars should be allowed to exceed emissions limits, say experts
  7. EU case against Google is bad for developers
  8. Privacy activists mount court challenge to EU-US data pact