The EP voted for a political compromise – the battle over the EEAS coming to an end?

Thursday, 8. July 2010     0 comment(s)
Kaisa Korhonen
Researcher - The European Union research programme
A political agreement between three negotiating partners – the European Parliament, the Commission and the rotating Council Presidency – was reached during the midsummer week as regards the organization of the European External Action Service. Today, the Brok report endorsing this compromise solution was adopted by the plenary in Strasbourg.

Inter-institutional truce was reached just in time before summer holiday season commences at the EU capitals. Still, the battle over political influence is likely to continue in September – in the form of the politics of recruitment and cost-efficiency.

The EEAS is set out to become operational by the end of this year if (and most probably, when) the EU foreign ministers approve the EEAS deal in their meeting on 26 July 2010. Besides this decision on the organization and functioning of the service, the EEAS still needs a budget as well as revised financial and staff regulations, which are to be forged in co-decision with the European Parliament.

To become operational, the service also needs to recruit a staff that is – as always in the EU – united in diversity. Finding a right balance of diversity among the diplomatic corps of some 1500 civil servants from the Commission and the Council as well as officials from national diplomatic services that will make up to one third of the total staff is a challenge not to be underestimated. In order to be seen as a foreign service of the 21st century, the EEAS ought to respect the principles of balanced recruitment both in terms of geography and gender.

The recruitment and occupational roles of its leadership are key political challenges for the EEAS in the autumn 2010. The political agreement reached gave the EP pretty much what it wanted: an executive secretary-general in charge of central administration, while the relevant commissioners and the foreign ministers of the rotating presidency act as High Representative’s political deputies when addressing the Parliament. It will certainly be interesting to see how this organization will work out in practice, since depending on the issue at hand, there will be many political deputies to choose from (three commissioners and three foreign ministers from the trio presidencies) as well as an executive secretary-general with two deputies, who, by the way, operate under ‘primus inter pares’ principle.

It is thus unsurprising that this rather long-drawn-out compromise has raised some doubts about the actual cost-effectiveness of the new corps. Even if only 100 new posts are to be created by January 2011 – a figure that includes seconded national experts – pleasing every ‘interest group’ willing to have their representatives in the service might mean that not much money is saved. This is a paradox, since the rationale of the reform was to cut down the costs of overlapping bureaucracies by streamlining the structure of EU foreign policy planning and execution. Now it seems that there will be too much EU foreign relations expertise under the same roof, especially if the crowded top level of the service will anyhow mirror the overall organizational chart.

Disappointments are always greatest when they are preceded by even greater expectations. In that regard, the criticism of the final solution not being clear-cut enough to bring some real savings is not entirely fair. A cost-efficient foreign service can only be built to deliver a single foreign policy. In the case of the EEAS, such policy does not exist. As long as there are 27 national and three intra-institutional foreign policies – embodied in the different approaches of the EP, the Commission and the Council – to serve, it will be a mission impossible to design a low-priced European foreign policy machinery.

Luckily, successful international actorness of the EU does not necessarily demand a single common foreign policy. The service is the first step away from the current EU foreign affairs architectural set-up, even if the decision-making powers hardly change. It does open a window of opportunity, at least in administrative terms, towards a coordinated international presence – if not yet a single voice in the global affairs. This is where the pro-Europeans’ expectations realistically ought to lie in order to become happily surprised.

Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors

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