The EEAS: the Devil is in the Detail

Tuesday, 4. May 2010     3 comment(s)
Kaisa Korhonen
Researcher - The European Union research programme
The member states of the EU have reached a political agreement on the blueprint for the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the negotiations with the European Parliament can now start. Getting the service up and running calls for inter-institutional compromises, but as the political battle over the organization of the service intensifies, the goal of designing an efficient foreign policy machinery should continue to dictate decisions.

Last week’s media reporting from Brussels suggested that the long-term efforts of streamlining EU foreign policy-making was getting somewhat forgotten in the latest design for the EEAS set-up. It was hinted that the EU foreign ministers and the new High Representative (HR) had reviewed the administrative architecture of the EEAS and that the Council was ready to delimit the power of the central administration’s Secretary-General (SG) to meet the demands of the European Parliament. Instead of a powerful Secretary-General and two deputy SGs (or assistants), a collegial leadership of three top officials of equal ranking with one of them acting as primus inter pares was reported to be gaining ground.

These reports of recent developments in the EEAS battle fields are however not fully supported by a more careful reading of the political agreement of 26 April. The proposal for a Council decision does certainly now mention an ‘executive’ SG instead of referring to an SG without a prefix, and the line stating that he/she “shall represent the EEAS” has been removed, but the SG shall still be “assisted by two Deputy Secretary-Generals”.

These changes imply that the new SG post might not become as political as earlier proposed, but rather a top administrative post. Fair enough, it is a legitimate approach to not concentrate political power in the hands of a non-elected official – a criticism continuously raised by the European Parliament. At the same time, the new formulation appears luckily to not go as far as to produce an organizational architecture too horizontal for its own good – keeping several top officials without a clear division of labour accountable would not have been an easy task. So far, pretty good. If only this fine balance between efficiency and accountability was not watered down in the midst of the upcoming inter-institutional talks.

For now, the emerging organizational chart still provides a clear line of authority and responsibility, necessary from the point of view of efficient policy-making – and there are good arguments to keep it that way. A coherent and accountable foreign service calls for a clear leadership structure, while the model of collegiality – part of the Commission’s organizational structure – should be reserved for policy areas that require less rapid action and where national interests are more convergent. In the case of the EEAS, the organizational example of the previous Council Secretariat might actually serve the purpose better. The model of an SG and a deputy SG has surely been criticized for its hierarchical nature, but with a clear chain of command in place, there was no need to wonder who was in charge in Brussels when Mr. Solana was out of office.

A modern European diplomatic service calls for a chief of administration as much as the national foreign services do. The EU might be a soft power and it might wish to remain so, but if the aim is to stay true to the novel idea of creating a common diplomatic service for an emerging global actor, the EEAS devil should not be allowed to lie in the missing detail of a clear chain of command.

Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors

Discussion (3 comments)

5.5.2010, Jouni Pulli

I'm extremely happy to read Kaisa Korhonen's point above. These ideas are, in my opinion, rather softly underlining the importance of the acute decisions concerning EEAS. However, it's of the utmost importance that these matters are raised into the public consideration also in Finland and thanks for that to Kaisa Korhonen and FIIA. It's about today, tomorrow might be already too late.

Let's make it functioning, even as with 50 per cent efficiency, at once. There is no time to loose, in fact, we are far behind already.

In order to be effective and trustworthy in minds of the decision- and policymakers around the world, it might be advisable that the SG has the full support of the HR, Baroness Ashton. Therefore it is of uttermost significance to establish permanently the SG Number One with very close co'operation with the HR of the EU. Actually, it would not be the most stupid idea to let Baroness Ashton to find the best SG.

5.5.2010, Savino Rua

Interesting post. A couple of comments:

The claim that a clear line of authority and responsibility is necessary from the point of view of efficient policy making is in my opinion misleading in the special, consensus based context of EU policy making.

In my view rapid action + clear leadership structure and the EU as it is (not as we might like it to be) are two worlds apart.

The Union's diplomatic service will remain different from hierarchical national foreign services simply as the EU is neither a nation nor a state: modernity might imply a clear chain of command, yet the post-modern EU might not.

Savino Rua

6.5.2010, Kaisa Korhonen

Thank you for your comments.

As regards my argument for a clear chain of command being misleading in the EU context of consensual decision-making culture, I underline that the argument is here only applied to the policy areas linked with the European external action. Especially when it comes to the CFSP and the CSDP, the objectives and interests of the EU member states remain so divergent that there is not (yet) a ground for consensus-based policy-making – at least not to the same degree as is the case of the ‘traditional’ areas of EU policy-making.

Therefore, the top of the EEAS ought to remain sensitive to the different national points of view on the foreign, security and defence policy issues and act as an institutional / inter-state interlocutor during the upcoming search for common denominators. I believe there is a need to a focal point that ables the member states to enhance their mutual trust and in the long run, ‘Europeanize’ their foreign (and security?) policies.

In other words, I make a case for a clear chain of command in the EEAS partly, because I do agree with the statement – “the EU is neither a nation nor a state” – and partly, because the explicit goal of the EU is still to become an unitary actor with a single voice that wishes to be taken seriously at the global stages of policy-making. And these global stages are still designed for states or state-like entities that are able to speak with one voice.

Indeed, rapid action and clear leadership structure are not the strengths of today’s EU, but this was the actual reason behind the whole reform process: the EU wanted to become an efficient and coherent global actor. Taking into account that the process of reforming the EU machinery for foreign affairs has already taken a decade of the Union’s time, it would be a great pity to forget the actual starting point at the finishing line.

The debate has however hardly started. The EP’s list of informal proposals to amend the draft Council decision of 26 April is long and includes the one calling for a Director General instead of a Secretary General. Apparently, the EP wants this post to become a purely administrative one, while the new HR would be represented in foreign affairs in general by political ‘deputies’ (appointed in a similar manner than special representatives) and in the specific cases of development, humanitarian aid and neighbourhood policy, by the three European Commissioners.

As said, the debate has hardly started. A recent FIIA briefing paper might be of interest to those of us willing to continue this debate.

Kaisa Korhonen

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