Europe's New Diplomats - An initial appraisal of the creation of the European External Action Service
The new service at a glance
After months of negotiations, the European Parliament and the EU Council finally gave the go-ahead in October for the creation of the European External Action Service. As a result, the new service can start work on 1 December 2010, drawing on around 3 700 staff and 135 embassies worldwide. The EEAS is one of the most important institutional reforms provided for by the Treaty of Lisbon. Existing but fragmented EU structures will be reformed, enhanced and brought together under the EEAS's umbrella. The idea behind the EEAS, originally devised by the European Constitutional Convention, is to ensure that Europe speaks more often with one voice, that the Union acts more effectively and more cohesively across policy fields and that the unwieldy EU foreign policy machinery is streamlined and duplication eliminated.
The proposals put forward last spring by EU foreign minister (or High Representative) Catherine Ashton did not fulfil those ambitions. However, thanks to the European Parliament’s efforts during the legislative procedure over the past months, and despite sometimes strong opposition from national governments, the EEAS now has the potential to become a driving force for a more effective and more legitimate EU foreign policy. As the Greens group has urged, democratic scrutiny by Parliament of the new External Action Service and civilian operations overseas has been strengthened. For instance, new, mission-specific budget lines will enable Parliament to oversee EU foreign missions more closely. Not least because of pressure from the Greens, the attempt to place the Union’s crisis management and peace-building activities largely in the hands of military personnel deployed by member states has been averted. Moreover, human rights will play a central role in the External Action Service and the EEAS will build up a global network of human rights experts. Contrary to the original proposal by Ms Ashton, steps are now also being taken to ensure that the political priorities and aims of development policy do not take second place to geostrategic interests. Finally, it is due to the insistence of the Greens that gender balance plays an important role in the new service and women are to be proactively promoted.
However, it is not yet certain whether, in practice, the European External Action Service will actually develop its full potential and deliver real added value, or whether it will simply become Europe’s twenty-eighth foreign ministry. That now lies mainly in the hands of Ms Ashton. The EU foreign policy chief has to design the EEAS as a powerful coordinating body for a whole range of external and internal policy areas, from climate change to development cooperation. She also has to make it the linchpin for conflict prevention and civilian crisis management. She will be able to do so only if she keeps her promise to Parliament and sets up effective conflict prevention, crisis management and peace-building structures and allocates to them the necessary staff. We shall have to remain very vigilant on this point. Up to now, Ms Ashton has not earmarked a single one of the 118 newly created posts in the EEAS for that purpose.
As far as Germany's involvement in the negotiations is concerned, the German government has stood on the sidelines. Berlin remained silent when it should have opposed the anachronistic views taken by a number of governments in the Council. In fact, the German government failed to put forward any constructive or even ambitious proposals whatsoever, even though the Greens in the Bundestag had presented a number of excellent proposals at an early stage.
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