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The first 100 days of the European diplomatic service…

The European football team comprising diplomats from eight countries (Austria, Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland) during a friendly match in Hebron (Credit: Consulate General of France, 2010)

(BRUSSELS2) The round number attracts attention. And it is traditional to make a first assessment, 100 days after taking power. The European diplomatic service will not escape this rule. It has actually been a hundred days since most of the staff of the Council and the Commission dealing with external relations were placed under the authority of the EEAS. And the European External Action Service is establishing itself in the landscape.

“Still a lot of work”

All is not rosy, of course. Many positions remain unfilled. Several units operate with acting leaders or with a director who has just arrived. And there is no real common culture yet. In summary, as a senior service official told 'B2', a bit laconic:there is still a lot of work !”. But the top management is now established with the arrival of the “youngest” youngest, Maria Marinaki (*). Which should put an end to a few months of intense struggle, behind the scenes, between the different candidates (at least for the main positions). The entire organization chart is not in place, particularly in terms of crisis response. But substantive work can slowly take over certain institutional considerations.

An invisible work of preparing decisions

The work of this diplomacy is often invisible. But if we take the two recent crises – Libya and Ivory Coast – the services prepared, in record time, draft sanctions decisions allowing European political leaders to show their capacity to react, a system reinforced by several times. Likewise, crisis management structures (PeSDC) have provided political and military options to deal with the conflict in Libya. A work which did not always result as clearly as hoped but still resulted in the pre-launch of the EUFOR Libya operation.

Diplomats are also working now on the post-crisis, post-Gbagbo or post-Gaddafi (*). The system put in place by the Lisbon Treaty is starting to bear fruit – comments a European diplomat. There is starting to be greater involvement of the Commission services (with the financial tools) and the service's diplomats (with political analysis). And the diplomatic service is starting to produce work not only for the High Representative but also for various European officials, notably José-Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy.

Delegations on the front line with more political telegrams

The contribution of the 135 EU delegations is essential from this point of view. These EU embassies have concretely taken over from the rotating presidency in most countries around the world. Substantial work which requires a more political approach and coordination of member states. As a MEP who attended the hearings of the first ambassadors who went to the field confided, “ in China, Japan, Lebanon… we have good quality people there ».

The daily flow between the field and headquarters is ensured in particular by “telegrams” – common diplomatic practice in most member states – which go back to headquarters, thus allowing the diplomatic service to have the tone of local politics. Daily, or even several times a day in the event of a crisis, or weekly, depending on the place and time, they allow diplomats at headquarters to have on their desk every morning a “bit of the local color of each country“. These telegrams “are sometimes unequal in their content or in their quality. But honestly, Yippee am quite surprised by their relevance and the wealth of information they contain – notes a veteran of European diplomacy. They are short, summarized, very political. We really have here a leading tool which is just waiting to gain momentum”.

With Washington, we are thus involved in the US electoral campaign and the mounting of the military operation in Libya. With Algiers, in particular, we grasp part of Bouteflika's policy to avoid being caught in the Arab turmoil. With Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, we follow the underside of local politics, the settlements in East Jerusalem…

The directors of departments involved in the negotiations

Several department heads or advisors are now engaged in major negotiations: Robert Cooper (for the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue), Miroslav Lajcak (for Transnistria), Helga Schmid (for the Middle East), Hugues Mingarelli (on the revolutions in the Arab world), Agostino Miozzo (who particularly follows the situation in Libya)…

Also concretely, “off record” briefings – allowing journalists to be informed of the main decisions to be expected from the Foreign Affairs Council or certain meetings – are now provided by the heads of the diplomatic service (Pierre Vimont when he acts of a Foreign Affairs Council, the director of the department concerned when it concerns a geographical event). An exercise often appreciated by most Brussels journalists because it is often one of the only ways to perceive the reality of European diplomatic work.

The creation of a European diplomatic service will not be done in a few days or a few months. The most reasonable ones speak of work lasting several years. Which is all in all reasonable. Because we have, in fact, entered into a process similar to the merger-acquisition mechanisms experienced by many companies. Merging several cultures, several ways of operating takes time. The observer in a hurry will have to be patient….

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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).