The European External Action Service and National Diplomacies – Partners or Rivals?

Endast inbjudna · The Finnish Institute of International Affairs · 24.01.2013 09:00 - 10:30
  • Endast inbjudna

Endast inbjudna

Launched two years ago, the European External Action Service, EEAS, has had a bumpy start in the midst of the economic crisis and the rise of EU critical views in most parts of Europe. Has the EEAS succeeded to bring more coherence and consistency to the EU’s external affairs? What added value can it offer to national foreign ministries, while many of them struggle to cope with budget cuts? Where does European foreign policy leadership come from these days – from Brussels; from Paris, London and Berlin; or anywhere at all? Has foreign policy re-nationalized at the cost of a common EU approach?


Stefan Lehne, Visiting Scholar at Carnegie Europe

Kristi Raik, Researcher, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Comments: Liisa Talonpoika, Deputy Director General at the Department for Europe, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

Chair: Juha Jokela, Programme Director, The European Union research programme, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs

This event is hosted in conjunction with the launch of a joint report of FIIA and the European Policy Centre entitled: ”Equipping the European Union for the 21st century” by Rosa Balfour, Head of the Europe in the World Programme of the EPC, and Kristi Raik, researcher at FIIA.


For more information, please contact: Ms Eeva Innola, tel. +358 9 432 7710,


Summary of the seminar:

Juha Jokela, Programme Director of the European Union research programme in the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, opened the event by highlighting that this year seems to be a year of foreign and security policy for the European Union. While the economic crisis is still present, several interesting developments related to external action are ongoing, followed closely by FIIA.

Stefan Lehne, Visiting Scholar at Carnegie Europe, started his presentation by pointing out that the Common Foreign and Security Policy is not so much common but rather parallel to the national foreign policies of the member states. Lehne regarded this as a real tragedy of the CFSP: It is associated with the ambitious and deep system of integration, leading to expectations that the EU will be an international player on the level of its overall importance, but because of its structural limitations these expectations are usually disappointed. The foreign policy reforms introduced in the Lisbon Treaty were the latest effort to tackle with these problems, but once again, according to Lehne, it was very clear that many member states were not prepared to move to a genuinely common foreign policy. However, the creation of the European External Actions Service offered an instrument that would bring more continuity and coherence to the overall effort.

Lehne saw the record of this process as mixed. In terms of continuity and functionality a significant progress can be noted, particularly compared to the problems of the old rotating presidency system. According to Lehne a huge step forward was the decision to allow the former Commission delegations to take over the role of the presidency on the ground. While significant progress can be noted in the area of crisis management and also in the area of Neighborhood Policy, where the co-operation between the Commission and the EEAS has been quite satisfactory, there is a much less positive record regarding trade, development and global issues, where very little progress can be noted. Lehne mentioned two reasons for this lack of progress: The restrictive approach of the Commission, seeking to preserve the competence of the Commission, and the lack of expertise in the EEAS in these fields. So, altogether the record concerning the more comprehensive approach, which was aimed for, is rather disappointing.

In terms of agenda setting, leadership and initiative, Lehne didn’t see much progress. According to him, there is clearly a lack of strategy and credibility vis-à-vis member states to give a direction. In the absence of direction from EEAS, it is the big member states that have assumed a stronger leadership role than they had in the past. This lack of leadership is to a large extent a consequence of the economic crisis, which has been a huge distraction factor. The crisis has also meant less self-confidence, loss of soft power and credibility and severely constrained resources. The economic crisis has also brought divisions among the Member States, worsening the lack of trust and sense of solidarity and brought forth a trend of re-nationalization of foreign policy.

According to Lehne, the External Action Service Review is well timed, because there is a chance now that the EU finally moves beyond the acute crises management of the last years. In his view, the review should accomplish three things: To create a strong push towards a comprehensive approach breaching the gap between external competencies of Commission and Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), to overcome the lack of a sense of ownership among the member states and to develop an institutional identity of the EEAS.

However, even if the review is successful, it still does not alone mean that we will have a real common foreign policy, Lehne pointed out. Besides the ”hardware” of common foreign policy, that is the EEAS, the ”software” is also needed, and that is determined by other factors. One of these factors is the overall dynamics of the integration process, while another crucial aspect is the risk of the UK moving out. Other factors are external challenges, e. g. consequences of the Arab Spring. A combination of these and the set of instruments that we have in our disposal in the EEAS together will determine the future of European foreign policy.

Kristi Raik, Researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, talked in her presentation about the views and expectations of the Member States towards EEAS, possible added value of the service, what kind of new division of labor between member states and EEAS might be envisioned and how to improve the relationship between EEAS and national foreign services. She begun by noting that the EEAS is a challenge to national diplomacy in Europe and even to diplomacy in general. The EEAS is a unique kind of diplomatic actor, that on the one hand gives the EU more state-like characters, but at the same time challenges the global system of diplomacy by entering inter-state relations as if it were representing a state although it is not.

According to Raik, the member states have adopted a wait-and-see -attitude towards the EEAS. She described the positions towards EEAS today as rather contradictory, as most member states expect the EEAS to do more, in terms of leadership, initiative, reporting and different services to the member states and even to the citizens of the EU, but the EEAS is not allowed to do so at a cost of national visibility, sovereignty, or resources. There is also a lack of vision among the member states about how to develop and utilize the EEAS that they have created. The now starting discussion about the review will hopefully encourage the member states to think what they want to do with the service.
In the research that FIIA has been conducting with the European Policy Center and a group of researchers from 14 member states, it has come out very strongly that national diplomats emphasize that the EEAS is complementary to national diplomacy and does not change the work of national foreign ministries. Raik would like to challenge this reasoning and call for rethinking the division of labor between EU and national levels of foreign policy making. The context for this is, according to Raik, the relative global decline of Europe and the budgetary pressures that national diplomacies are facing because of the economic crisis.

The economic crisis is forcing the majority of member states to cut their budgets and to do more with less. Many foreign services are closing embassies and/or reducing staff. What is common to all national foreign services so far is that the cuts have not been connected to the existence of the EEAS. This should, according to Raik, change as the EEAS is establishing itself. The EEAS is starting to be acknowledged by MFAs as one of the partners for burden-sharing, and the EEAS itself has started to gather information on the member states’ interest in co-locations of embassies and has already entered some arrangements with national MFAs. There are also some practices of national ”laptop-diplomats” placed in EU delegations, with more coming.

However, noted Raik, these burden-sharing arrangements are imposed on member states by budget constraints, and are not based on principled commitment to deepen foreign policy integration. At the same time the member states refer to national austerity as an argument against increasing the budget of the EEAS, and so, while expecting the EEAS to do more, they are not ready to increase its resources and are not ready to shift the balance of policy making towards the EEAS. Still, according to Raik, even sticking to a rational approach, there is a lot a potential for member states to utilize the EEAS better.

The main added value of the EEAS comes from its delegation network that can, according to Raik, already be called a success story. Many member states are in favor of strengthening the EU delegations. It would be very useful to improve the reporting of the EEAS delegations, so that the member states could rely more on EU delegations and focus their own reporting better.

Raik stated that there is a rational drive to burden-sharing, but this is not enough to legitimize the common foreign policy. The main potential value-added that the member states can have from the EEAS is political, the EU remains a power multiplier to the member states if only they choose to work together. However, the member states are very selective in how they work through the EU, keeping some of their highest priorities outside the EU while using the EU as a power multiplier in others. Europeanization by downloading positions from the EU happens mostly in lower level priorities. There is also a phenomenon of offloading some issues to the EU, for example leaving human right topics to EU while concentrating on trade issues, which is damaging to the EU’s credibility.

Another problem is lack of trust and a sense of ownership. Especially the smaller countries are concerned by what they see as a too strong influence of the big three. The EEAS is seen as less attentive to national sensitivities of all the member states than the former presidency system, and many smaller member states are skeptical whether the EEAS is promoting the common European interests or just the interests of the most influential members. This lack of trust is related to the lack of transparency and lack of sufficient information sharing. So there is need for consultations done regularly in order to achieve legitimation of EEAS. Raik also mentioned the lack of leadership as a problem for the EEAS, asking that while the member states say they want more leadership from the EEAS, are they ready to accept it?

Raik concluded her presentation by noting that the EEAS has been built in a short period of time, and is starting to prove its value added to member states and to European diplomacy, but the further strengthening of the service depends on the readiness of the members to allow the EEAS to develop to its full potential. The national diplomacies will continue to exist, but if we agree that Europe needs more unity in order to matter in global affairs, there is a need for stronger common foreign service that is capable of acting as a policy entrepreneur and showing leadership.

In her comments Liisa Talonpoika, Deputy Director General at the Department for Europe at Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, pointed out that there is a broad agreement among the member states on what has to be done. She also noted that the EEAS will earn the respect of member states, Commission, third countries and international organizations, if it is doing the right things in the right way at the right time. Talonpoika said that the content of the policy needs to be sharpened, and member states need to be more honest about what they want the EEAS to do and not to do. She also pointed out that the lack of resources of the EEAS is solved only by prioritizing their tasks. To conclude her remarks, she noted that since people do things when they have to do them, external pressure is maybe needed in order to develop common foreign policy.

In the comment section of the seminar, several questions were raised, including whether the EEAS should provide services to citizens, which could increase support for the EEAS. Regarding this issue, it was noted that an important minority of member states have been against the delegation of consular services to the EEAS and also the resources of EEAS are quite limited. Also political work and reporting is seen as more important task of the EEAS than consular services. There was also discussion about how EU delegations work in international organizations, and what functions the EEAS could give up if it has to in order to manage with its limited resources.