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Monday, October 26, 2009

EU Foreign Office takes shape

Today EUObserver reports on an ambassadors' document from the Swedish EU Presidency on plans underway to create the so-called EU External Action Service. We've managed to get hold of a copy of the report, which is likely to form the basis of discussions amongst EU foreign ministers today and among EU leaders at the end of the week, meeting in Brussels.

The form, structure and powers of the EU External Action Service (EEAS) pose one of many unanswered questions about the detail of the Lisbon Treaty which will only be finally decided once the Treaty is in force (very soon). As we warned in the past, the details about this new service are only now being discussed now that the Treaty has been agreed upon (albeit not yet ratified).

Previously, we've warned that this body could take on a life of its own and eventually become a single EU diplomatic service, bringing together national diplomats with the Commission's existing staff into a single surpnational service, and creating pressure to avoid 'duplication' of diplomatic postings.

But looking at the suggestions in this report, it seems plans for the EEAS are even more ambitious than we imagined. Proposing to turn the EEAS into an EU institution in its own right, with its own budget and "a leading role in strategic decision-making", the report shows that the plan is incorporate the EU's various military bodies and make this a real EU Foreign Ministry.

The European Parliament’s External Relations Committee once warned that if the diplomatic service was set up as an independent institution it would "take on an uncontrollable life of its own" and would result in an "independent super administration".

And as Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said in reference to the EEAS back in 2005:

“We will undoubtedly see European embassies in the world, not ones from eachcountry, with European diplomats and a European foreign service. We will see Europe with a single voice in security matters. We will have a single Europeanvoice within NATO. We want more European unity.”

In a nutshell, here is what will be discussed by EU leaders this week:

- The EEAS should become an EU institution in its own right, with its own section of the EU budget, alongside the European Commission, the EP and the Council.

- EU Foreign Minister (appointed by a qualified majority vote in the Council) will take charge of the institution and propose how much money he or she needs, authorise spending, appoint his own staff, and take charge of the European Commission's existing delegations across the world.

- EEAS would manage general foreign relations as well as EU security and defence projects, such as the police missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Georgia and Afghanistan or any future peacekeeping operations in, for example, Africa.

- EEAS would have what EUobserver calls "internal cells" dealing with developing countries and enlargement candidates which will "play a leading role in the strategic decision-making" on Commission programmes such as the European Development Fund.

- Member states' own embassies will apparently continue to provide diplomatic and consular protection for EU citizens abroad - but how long for? The report says that "EU delegations should play a supporting role as regards diplomatic and consular protection of Union citizens in third countries."

- In terms of staffing, the diplomatic corps is to suck in people from the commission's foreign affairs department, relevant experts from the Council and diplomats from member states' foreign ministries. As predicted, one third of senior or "AD level" staff is to come from member states. People are to be hired keeping in mind the need to maintain "geographic balance" across the EU and "gender balance."

- Controversially, staff will be rotated into the EEAS and then back out into their old jobs, with diplomats from EU states temporarily becoming EU officials on equal pay and perks to colleagues from Brussels. And staff would be provided with "common training".

- Member states would be expected to "share information" with the EEAS

- Again, controversially, the paper envisages incorporating the various EU military bodies into the EEAS "In order to enable the High Representative to conduct the European Security and Defence Policy". These bodies are the Civilian-Military Planning Directorate, the Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability, and the EU Military Staff.

- It would also take charge of the Situation Centre, the EU member states' intelligence-sharing hub in Brussels (see here for a bit more on this)

And there will be no real parliamentary control of all of this. The report makes clear that the EU Foreign Minister will "regularly consult the European Parliament on the main aspects and the basic choices of the CFSP/CSDP", but that's about it. It will have "autonomy in terms of administrative budget and management of staff."

According to EUobserver, the new foreign minister will make his final proposal on the shape of the EEAS by April 2010, and the new institution should reach "full cruising speed" by 2012 and undergo a thorough review in 2014.

All of this is important - but of course none of these details were discussed properly in parliament when the Treaty was being ratified, since the text of the Treaty was left so ambiguous.

As the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said:

"the Lisbon Treaty gives only a bare outline of the role of the new External Action Service, leaving most of the details of its functioning to be determined. This could well be a case of "the devil is in the detail". We conclude that the establishment of the European External Action Service will be a highly complex and challenging exercise."

Meanwhile, in an article in the Times today David Miliband disingenously claims that that all countries will retain their veto in foreign policy under the Lisbon Treaty. But this is simply not true. There are 12 areas of foreign policy where majority voting will be introduced for the first time, despite Peter Hain's assertion back when the original Constitution was being negotiated that "QMV is a no-go area in foreign policy." Jack Straw added that QMV in foreign policy was "simply unacceptable", and then later accepted it.

For a start, decisions relating to the creation of the controversial External Action Service will be taken by QMV on a proposal from the new EU Foreign Minister.

For the record - here are the other areas of foreign policy where majority voting will apply under Lisbon:

1. Proposals from the EU Foreign Minister
2. Setting up an inner core in defence
3. Terrorism and mutual defence
4. Urgent financial aid
5. Humanitarian aid
6. The election of the EU Foreign Minister
7. Civil protection
8. Terrorist financing controls
9. The new EU Foreign Policy Fund
10. Consular issues
11. The role and mandate of the European Defence Agency

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