Blog AnalysisEEAS High Representative

The diplomatic service: holes in the Swiss cheese?

photo credit: Emmenthaler.ch *

If the European ambassadors (the “heads of delegation of the European Union” to be exact) are at the party (1), the services toast (figuratively) and groan! The Vimont/O'Sullivan duo at the head of the diplomatic service may not sleep much in the coming weeks if they want to resolve everything. The organizational charts of the Relex DGs of the Commission and their alter egos on the Council side are, in fact, seriously beginning to become depopulated. The reason is quite simple and logical. It’s the “human factor”, as my pilot friends would say (2), or the “gruyère” complex (*) as others say.

Units without leaders

The creation of the diplomatic service is first (and above all) a restructuring of two existing organizations: that of the Commission and that of the Council. Certain units or directions will be merged… Others will disappear into a larger whole. So as in any restructuring, when men/women are not sure of the future, they leave, taking advantage of the first interesting position that looms on the horizon to grab it.

For the diplomats of the Council of the European Union, added to this logic of restructuring, a career choice. Moving to the European Commission or the European External Action Service (EEAS), where the hierarchical chain is longer and heavier, can be a career slowdown.

And, for everyone, the game then resembles roulette, red or black, odd or missing... Risk everything or everything (to progress in the diplomatic career) or secure your situation. Result: several units/directorates operate without a leader, or without a deputy, or even without both. And these are not replaced because we wait “ all decisions ". But everyone knows that it is the intermediate levels of a structure which are the heart of the machine. Especially since the motivation is not the best!

Lack of oil in the machine

According to the information that regularly comes back from the inside, “theconstant waterlogging” some will say, “theinconsistency” will say others, from Cathy Ashton’s office, is starting to weigh heavily on the machine which is “lacking oil”. There is a "generalized floating” several sources told me. Particularly in the area of ​​crisis management. This hesitation manifests itself in several ways, depending on the moments and the units. Either we don't ask anything of the troops. These then produce papers, summary notes, mission plans (if we are in the civil or military domain of the PeSDC). But a little in the vague, in the fog, without having clear directions where to go, and even less " concrete return "...

When there is a demand, briefing notes go out. But then again, " there is rarely a return ". " We even wonder if our papers are read. Or if they serve any purpose” someone from the inner circle told me. Comment confirmed by another. Petty remarks no doubt you will say… This is not always the case. The typical example: the services are preparing a modification of a mission X. No response. Time passes. But, in fact, the paper is no longer worth anything, the situation has changed on the ground. Good to put in the trash. Another example: a document is returned to the department with the signature for approval of the High Representative. But it's not the right one. Tired of fighting, those interested give up, it took so long to get the “signed” return “that we get by”… No wonder we have the impression of being on the spot, of a certain absence , after a year of operation of the High Representative, the critics argue: look at how things are going inside… and you will understand!

NB: still no appointment of the 6 (rather 7) Managing Directors (department directors). Behind-the-scenes pressure from member states appears to be strong. And no choice has yet been made official.

(*) Yes ! I know it's not in Gruyère but in Emmenthal that there are holes (hence the photo). But “Gruyère” is prettier. And it is under this name that the Gruyère complex is known, which can be summarized as follows: the more cheese there is = the more holes there are, the more holes there are = the less cheese there is. Conclusion: the more cheese, the less. 🙂 Any resemblance to a service that has existed, or could exist, is completely coincidental (of course).

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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).