2nd Oct 2023

EU faces raft of open questions over diplomatic service

Even if the EU succeeds in ratifying its newly agreed Reform Treaty in all 27 member states, the bloc is braced for further political wrangling over how to get its act together on foreign policy.

One of the more high-profile projects in the treaty - the creation of an EU diplomatic service - is likely to cause strong political tension even after the treaty is scheduled to be in force in 2009, experts predicted during the launch of a new report by the Brussels-based European Policy Centre (EPC) last week.

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The treaty says the newly created diplomatic force – officially called European External Action Service - will "assist" the EU's future top foreign policy official, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

The newly-styled high representative will have a "double hat" and cover the existing posts of member states' foreign policy chief – currently Javier Solana – and the European Commission's external relations commissioner.

Consequently, the EU diplomatic force will consist of officials from the secretariat of the EU Council (which is Mr Solana's office), commission staff as well as seconded diplomats from national capitals.

But after the entering into force of the treaty - scheduled for January 2009 - it is likely to take years before the diplomatic service is fully up and running, as the treaty leaves several sensitive political decisions to fight over for EU capitals and institutions.

The service is likely to employ thousands of staff - but its exact size and composition are still fully unclear, highlighted Wilhelm Schoenfelder, who until recently served as Germany's ambassador to the EU. "What will be the share of member states, and how will be the share among member states? I don't know. These are all open questions."

'Evident conflict'

"It will need to be high quality staff and we will need some high flyers from member states' ministries", said Brian Crowe, a former senior official at Mr Solana's secretariat, adding that commission staff are often "not well trained enough" in diplomacy.

"Putting this together is going to be a nightmare," Mr Crowe predicted.

It also remains to be decided what institutional status the EU's diplomatic corps will have.

There is broad agreement that it should not become a "new institution" but "there is an evident conflict" between the commission and the council on the precise settings of the service as "both strive to preserve their respective structures and competences," the EPC report says.

Staff rules are also an issue to be sorted out. Commission officials joining the service are used to high salaries and less used to regularly rotating posts abroad - but if they keep all their privileges this could cause the jealousy of flexible and less-well paid colleagues from national ministries.

Who will pay?

Meanwhile, national foreign ministries and the European Parliament are already worried that sensitive political and security positions will be prepared by the service behind closed doors and beyond their political influence - a concern which was highlighted at the EPC meeting.

Mr Crowe, a former top aide to Mr Solana, said the service should have a "confidential relationship with the high representative".

"Member states should not expect to see everything the External Action Service produces. You cannot run a foreign policy like that", he stated.

Lastly, the cash for the whole project still needs to be scraped together. "Up until now nobody has done any preparatory work for the budget," Mr Schoenfelder said, asking whether there is money enough in the EU's 2007-2013 or whether "additional money" is needed.

Preparatory work

The treaty says that "preparatory work" on the service should already start right after the signature of the document, scheduled for next month - and this could already prove to be a potential political minefield.

Guenter Burghardt, a former EU ambassador to the US, warned that "we have to make sure that there are no discussions taking place in the open air" before the UK parliament has ratified the reform treaty and Ireland has held its treaty referendum early next summer, with both London and Dublin sensitive about foreign policy issues.

But France, holding the EU presidency in the second half of next year, could cause upset by actively meddling in the preparations.

On top of this, it is also not clear when the new high representative – who will make formal proposals on the "organisation and functioning" of the service once the treaty comes into force – will enter the fray.

The new treaty is meant to come into effect in January 2009 - but a new European Commission - of which he or she will be a member - will be appointed only 11 months later, in November.

"I've heard that at least for the transitional period from January 2009 to November, Javier Solana will be in office", said Mr Schoenfelder, asking "When will the decision take place – before the new commission takes office or only after?"

"This is also decisive for the question when the service will start working", he added.


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