Blog AnalysisEEAS High Representative

Six months later. Is there a chief diplomat at the helm?

AshtonConfPress2CmeMinAffEtr@UE100510(BRUSSELS2) Six months since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, more than six months after his appointment, it is time to take the temperature of the new EU foreign policy and the effect of the new High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Suffice to say that the result is not very glorious. If you are in a gloomy mood today, do not read the following lines, they could only push you into doubt. Indeed, when you question diplomats, soldiers, all-terrain experts, the main words that come up are: inaudible, inconsistent, invisible… (1).

However, it is not for lack of good will, nor of trips in all directions by the new High Representative of the EU... Catherine Ashton thus took her pilgrim's staff and went to Washington, Bosnia, Haiti, in Kenya, the Seychelles… She chaired the Foreign Affairs Council, went to NATO two or three times (she rarely misses a meeting of the Atlantic Alliance!), to the United States once, in kyiv too. In short, it does the job. But that's it, nothing more. On the contrary. Several opportunities to assert the European voice loud and clear were lost (Haiti, Iran, etc.). The repeated absences of the High Representative are beginning to be difficult to justify. His “misses” are the talk of the town. Explanations…

Initiatives: degree zero

Six months after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU's foreign policy is suffering… “No notable initiatives have been launched” explains an expert on these files. Comments confirmed by several speakers. The establishment of the diplomatic service (European external action service) seems to monopolize all the attention of the High Representative (2). But there too it drags. Parliamentarians lament being a little neglected and, above all, seeing certain proposals drag on.

In the meantime, the other files remain in limbo. Permanent structured cooperation is failing, left in the hands of the Member States. The solidarity clause (although a major innovation of the Lisbon Treaty) which requires an initiative from the High Representative and the Commission is still not applied. The launch fund is still… not launched! In short, none of the changes in the Lisbon Treaty have been implemented.

As for possible innovations (creation of a common crisis management center, etc.) and the sense of audacity, suffice to say that they are carefully stored in the depths of a safe. Of which we forgot where it was located and of which we lost the code….

Offbeat speeches

Typical example: Thailand. Government troops charge the red shirts, cautious embassies close. On the side of the High Representative, nothing.
24 hours after the last charge, while the barricades were already dismantled and the dead removed (more than forty dead, several hundred injured), a statement appeared out of nowhere, calling for “dialogue with a view to resolving the current crisis by peaceful and democratic means, and restoring stability and order in the country“. A bit late.

Another example: the Gaza Flotilla. Cathy's first reaction is a little under-calibrated. She calls for an internal investigation by the Israeli authorities, a statement which is not unanimous among member states, far from it. A second press release later corrected the “shot”. A statement which is also inappropriate from an international law point of view: the boats are in international space, fly various flags, and the people are, some of them, European nationalities.

An often astonishing radio silence

The trip to Kenya, Tanzania or the Seychelles is important – at least for regional consultation in East Africa and the continuity of the anti-piracy operation (in its “judicial treatment of pirates” aspect). But the The results of this trip remain obscure. Communication to the press is limited to a minimum and the Member States do not seem to be treated any better. Another example: At the EU-Balkans summit, Ashton is there but disappears before the end. at the press conference surprises my Balkan colleagues who ask the question to Stefan Füle, commissioner in charge of Enlargement. He, a little embarrassed, justifies it by “agenda problems”.

Drying, a basic principle

We already knew of the absence of Palma de Mallorca during the meeting of Defense Ministers. We thought this era was over. Catherine Ashton had promised it, sworn it. She would be here now. Alas At the Istanbul summit on Somalia, on May 21-23, it was the pale Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs, who was dispatched. Result: the EU contribution goes by the wayside. It was therefore only released by the conference organizers on its website 10 days later (when the summit ink had long since faded). And the European Union is barely mentioned in the final declaration (only EUNAVFOR is thanked).

At the EU-Pakistan summit last Friday, although her visit was on the agenda, the EU's chief diplomat was not there. “ She's in London …” Pakistan, the sixth world power in terms of population, with nuclear weapons, strategically placed between China and Iran, and in latent conflict with its powerful Indian neighbor and where the war in Afghanistan is spreading, n It's therefore not a subject of foreign policy... On the other hand, rest assured, Catherine Ashton always has time to go to NATO meetings. Even a meeting of COPS-NAC ambassadors finds favor in his eyes. She must have probably made a mistake with her organization...

Rumors and chants

Result. The little disappointment of the first days swallowed, the enthusiasm of the first months has died down. European diplomats today have a “wave in their souls”. They don't feel any clear impulse. From the scribal to the special representative, doubt and weariness are beginning to inhabit the corridors. “ We don't feel the presence of a leader. » explains one of them. “ The troops depress » adds another. Internally, the main officials have the feeling of being neglected, little consulted, not listened to, and are finding it increasingly difficult to explain and justify European foreign policy. “ Catherine Ashton governs alone and is isolated » specifies one of them. And another to summarize, a feeling it seems, very shared: "The boat is adrift”.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) And again… I am kind and very polite

(2) I am often told that the absence of the EEAS is a handicap for the action of the High Representative because she has no services.
This assertion seems to me to be largely erroneous. Because many services are at the disposal of the Chief Diplomat of the EU (DG Relex, Council Secretariat, EU General Staff, etc.) which only ask to act and be coordinated by the HR without waiting for the structural merger desired by the Lisbon Treaty.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).