Thursday, May 26, 2011

Europe: The EEAS - One for All, or One Among Many?

Source: International Relations and Security Network (ISN)

The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty raised expectations that a more viable structure for dealing with external EU relations could be formed. Thus was born the European External Action Service. Still, however, the EU's diplomatic landscape continues to reflect the fragmented character of its foreign policy system.

By Caterina Carta for ISN Insights

Since the entry into force of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, foreign policy making in the EU rested on a delicate institutional system, symbolized by the Pillar Structure. As in a temple, the policy-making structure was founded on three pillars: European Communities, Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and Justice and Home Affairs (JHA). CFSP and Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) were maintained under intergovernmental control, while other fields of external action were managed under the so called Community method.

The 2009 Treaty of Lisbon was welcomed as an attempt to dismantle the Pillar Structure and to unify the foreign policy-making process. In reality, in external policy matters, the Commission, the Council and the Member States carry on pursuing parallel policies on the grounds of the competencies attributed by the treaties. There are four sets of competences that converge in the EU external policy field: exclusive Community powers, where the Member States are no longer allowed to act autonomously; collective foreign policy actions, which are pursued through the intergovernmental method of policy making; and mixed competences, where both the Union and the Member States share competences. Finally, there are competences of exclusive pertinence of the Member States. As much as foreign policy drives diplomatic action and organization, diplomatic representation is reflected in the attribution of competences. In Brussels, no single institution represents the Union on an exclusive basis. While ending the rotating Presidency for both the European Council (chaired by the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy) and the newly established Council for External Affairs (chaired by the High Representative/Vice President of the Commission, HR/VP, Catherine Ashton), current arrangements confirm a two-pronged form of external representation, respectively imputed to the President of the Council (Article 9(b)TEU) and the HR/VP (Article 13.2(a)TEU). In addition, the Commission also ensures the Union's external representation (Article 17(1)) in its areas of competence.

Accordingly, diplomatic representation on the spot has also been reformed by the Lisbon Treaty. The "embassies" of the EU, known as the EU Delegations, took over the task of external EU representation. In reality, as outlined below, the Member States are resisting empowering the Delegations with the task of representing the EU for both Second Pillar and mixed competences.

With the launch of the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU created a brand new quasi diplomatic service among European diplomatic services, which is sustained by a European bureaucracy among other European bureaucracies. The EU is, therefore, still represented by a constellation of diplomatic actors, rather than a single diplomatic star.

A European Ministry of Foreign Affairs?

The EEAS was welcomed as the most astonishing merger of foreign services at the EU level. It brought together staff from the Commission, the Council Secretariat General (CSG) and diplomats from the 27 Member States of the EU. The EEAS' role as an institutional bridge - one that brings together First and Second Pillar competences - should provide the EU with a kind of integrated Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

However, a European MFA does not really exist. The establishment of the EEAS brings with it two categories of organizational problems: one relates to the definition of its policy role and the other to its bureaucratic composition.

On the one hand, in terms of its policy role, the EEAS is not an institution, but a sui generis service, endowed with the task of assisting other institutions. In this light, the role of the EEAS is one of facilitating the process of foreign and external policy making. The Commission and Council, therefore, still hold the "primacy" over the Union's external relations competences.

Interestingly enough for its role in the implementation of common measures, the EEAS does not have control over the operational budget of measures that it contributes to set up. Indeed, in parallel to the creation of the EEAS, a new unit was created within the European Commission, the Service for Foreign Policy Instruments (SfFPI). The SfFPI is endowed with the task of administering the financial instruments for external and foreign policies and to coordinate the EU external relations budget. Financial arrangements reportedly reflect the level of inter-institutional rivalries, which cuts across the new EU institutional structure. In the words of a Commission official, these arrangements show that "EU services are not truly integrated".

On the other hand, in bureaucratic terms, the EEAS can be regarded as an unusual foreign service. The first EU ambassadors, selected under the new rules on September 2010, confirmed the intention to give the EU an extremely qualified Foreign Service, with all new Heads of Delegation beneath ambassadorial or equivalent rank. Recruitment, however, has been characterized by harsh turf battles among the Member States and EU institutions over the most prestigious positions of the Service. This antagonistic mood among European actors potentially constitutes a severe impediment to the purpose of selecting "the best and the brightest" for EEAS top jobs. This begs a crucial question: where will the institutional loyalty and allegiance of the Service lie?

In contrast to any national MFA, the EEAS has a maimed role in policy making and can be regarded as a crutch for other institutions. On the bureaucratic side, it is undermined by potential conflicts resulting in part from the mixed background of its staff. In this light, we might wonder: Has the EU really managed to better integrate its foreign and external policies?

What do the delegations do on the ground? Views from abroad

For nearly 50 years the Commission has been entrusted with the task of representing the European Economic Communities (EECs) abroad in its areas of competence. In CFSP matters and, at times, for mixed competences, the task of representing the EU abroad was pursued through a system of diplomatic coordination between all EU actors on the ground. For these competencies, internal coordination and diplomatic representation was led by the embassy of the state holding the EU rotating Presidency. In parallel, as is still the case, the Member States could speak in their own capacity where the treaties allow them to do so.

With the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU Delegations took on the task of coordinating the EU for all First and Second Pillar competences. Cooperation between the Delegations of the EU and Member States' embassies is maintained as a central feature of the joint system of diplomatic representation, with regular meetings held weekly in order to shape a common European approach vis-à-vis third parties.

According to some EEAS officials working in the EU Delegation to the UN and in the EU Mission to the WTO, with the rotating Presidency disappearing from the picture, some Member States wished to ascribe a restrictive interpretation of the Lisbon arrangements.

On the one hand, the Member State holding the rotating Presidency is not necessarily keen to give up its task of external representation. This is, reportedly, the case of the current Hungarian Presidency, which wants to do more. This attitude can contribute to a tense atmosphere and foment reciprocal suspicions.

On the other hand, there is a question of competencies. The more a given policy field is fragmented in terms of competencies, the more there is room for disagreement over the issue of "who does what", both in terms of coordinating the European front and in terms of "who speaks for Europe". In fragmented policy areas - those who are based on a mixed blend of Community, Second Pillar and mixed competences such as peacebuilding, therefore, the EU still works according to a "pillarized" logic in search of deeper integration.

To further complicate this picture, the EU does not necessarily have a full status within International Organizations (IOs). This means that, in some international bodies, the EU holds only an observer status. In those cases, a division of competences between the Delegations and Member States is urged by the rules of procedure of each IO.


The EEAS has had a turbulent launch. The transitional stage has not ended yet and many organizational details still need to be defined. Significant in this regard is the level of antagonism and competitiveness that characterized the attitude of all European actors in matters of competences.

As this brief account shows, although an effort to unify diplomatic representation has been made, the EEAS is still only a quasi-diplomatic service, which represents "instances" of foreign policy and relies on coordination among all European actors, who at times have conflicting interests and views of the EU international action.

Dr Caterina Carta is Research Fellow at the Department of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science.