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What will come of Lady Ashton’s EEAS blueprint?

Lady Catherine Ashston

Lady Catherine Ashton

With the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon, the hopes and fears of euro-skeptics and enthusiasts were stirred. The treaty’s objective of creating an independent and coherent EU foreign policy presence is – on paper, at least – just around the corner. The Treaty of Lisbon has provided the EU with its own diplomatic corps, the European External Action Service (EEAS), which is to support EU’s “secretary of state” the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Catherine Ashton. Furthermore, the Lisbon treaty has double-hatted Ashton. Thus, the High Representative is vice-president of the Commission, the EU’s executive arm, while simultaneously representing the 27 member states in foreign policy issues. As the High Representative also convenes and chairs the Foreign Affairs Council, the new position contains a considerable clout. But what, to borrow the words of Charles Grant, Director of the Center for European Reform, of the “orchestra” that is to assist the conductor of European foreign policy?  

Determining the exact composition and scope of the EEAS has been the cause of considerable disagreement. Following the creation of a “high level group” tasked with the creation of a  EEAS blueprint, a turf war erupted over the staffing and scope of the diplomatic service. Considering that the high level group consisted of representatives from the Commission, the European Council and member states a turf war was in hindsight perhaps inevitable. The Commission insisted it was to head the EU’s delegations abroad, and intended to reserve certain funding and policy areas for itself. In particular, the Commission was reluctant to yield the EU’s European Development Fund and the Instrument for Stability to the EEAS. As for the member states, they intended to appoint diplomats from national foreign services to head the EU delegations and opposed the asset stripping of the EEAS by the Commission.

Due to the contention regarding the EEAS structure, Lady Ashton’s blueprint for the diplomatic corps has been looked forward to with anticipation. The unveiling of Ashton’s proposal in late March did however not answer all the questions. Critics pointed out that the blueprint was vague and did not contain an organizational chart. Nevertheless, the blueprint does describe some of the organizational aspects of the EEAS. The service is expected to have a staff of up to 7,000 with a budget in the neighborhood of3bn euros ($4bn). One third of the EEAS staff will be seconded from national diplomatic services with the rest drawn from the Council secretariat and relevant Commission directorates. The EEAS will consist of directorates general, organized into both geographical and thematic desks.

The biggest sticking point of Ashton’s proposal is that the day to day running of the service is to be lead by a secretary-general . This structure has been criticized by members of the European Parliament (MEP) who say the EEAS will be managed by an omnipotent secretary general “lurking like a spider in the middle of his web”, as stated by conservative German EP member Elmar Brok. Broadly speaking, MEP’s demand that the EEAS is to be held accountable to Parliament. In addition, Ashton’s proposal has been criticized by MEP’s for its “artificial separation” of EEAS and Commission competencies related the aforementioned Development Fund and Instrument for Stability. Parliamentarian critics call the proposal a “recipe for incoherence” and threaten to reject of the staffing and financing aspects of Ashton plan if their points of view are not taken into consideration.

The Parliament will have an opportunity to flex its muscles following Ashton’s submission of her proposal to the European Council at the end of this month. Ashton will then have to submit an estimate of EEAS expenditure which is subject to co-decision, requiring both support from the Commission and the European Parliament. Considering the mood of the Parliament the structure of the EEAS does not seem carved in stone. MEPs, given their right of co-decision, believe it will be at least June before the technical questions allowing the establishment of the service are resolved. Some of have suggested the discussions may last until the early autumn.



Finn Maigaard

Finn Maigaard holds an MA in history from the University of Copenhagen. As an MA student Finn focused on diplomatic history culminating in a thesis on US-Danish security cooperation in the Cold War. Finn also interned at the Hudson Institute's Political-Military Center, where he concentrated on the EU's role as a security institution, and at the World Affairs Institute as a Communications/Editorial Research Assistant. Finn currently resides in Washington, DC and works as a freelance writer, and as Program Coordinator at the University of Maryland's National Foreign Language Center.

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