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At the lunch of the 27: how to better speak out for Europe?

Meeting of the Council of EU Foreign Ministers (Credit: Council of the EU, March 2011)

(BRUSSELS2) How to better organize the EU's external response? How can we improve relations between EU delegations and Member State embassies on the ground? What relations should the diplomatic service maintain with the European Commission and the Council Secretariat? What financial and personnel resources are required? … Here are some of the questions which will serve as main course for the traditional meal platter for the 27 Foreign Ministers, this Monday (May 23) at noon. A discussion fueled by several “non papers” from different delegations, notably Austria and the Benelux. These countries believe that the Union's foreign policy remains too timid. The exchange of information between the EU and the Member States is limited, contacts on the ground between embassies of the Member States and the EU delegation should be strengthened... In hushed tones, they also criticize the functioning of the services of the High Representative, an illegible organization chart of the EEAS (where the competences are tangled), the repeated press releases where each in turn (Van Rompuy, Barroso, Ashton, the Member States) make more or less identical declarations, etc.

A realistic meeting schedule

The High Representative of the EU should also put on the table her own ideas to strengthen the efficiency and functioning of the Foreign Affairs Council, explains a European diplomat. “ It is necessary to define an agenda of the meetings which is realistic, not to add disproportionately points to the agenda, in order to be able to deal with the points in more depth. It is necessary that on each point, we focus on 2-3 questions to remember. We must avoid wanting to talk about everything and... ultimately nothing, try to demonstrate discipline in interventions, reduce the time of interventions…”. There is no question of limiting the time in an imperative manner (not yet :-)), but a watch has already been set up to raise awareness among ministers, to “see the time that passes ". Another line of thought: defining "one day in the month which would be devoted to the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs (Nb: for example the 3rd Monday of the month), allowing each minister to organize himself in advance ”, the advice then starting in the morning at 9am and ending after lunch.

The issue of secure communications, an important detail

The arrival of the new service, and the rise in power of delegations to the level of embassies, have also led to a whole series of questions which were not asked before, recognizes this interlocutor who is well versed in the issues: “ How to develop joint analyses, take joint steps, how the EU can make a contribution to the work and good knowledge of countries which do not have diplomatic representation, how quite simply to exchange secure information…. It is a long process ". For example, " As we strengthen our delegations with political units, the question of secure communications networks arises. For the moment, out of the 135 delegations, there are only 20 which have secure networks. We must therefore boost the work to put in place technical means available to the delegations. " When we say that (the EEAS) will take time, indeed it will take time. »

The question of the budget: a delicate question

However, not all delegations are on the same wavelength. European Affairs Minister David Lidington has already warned that his country's position will remain firm. “ The External Service should limit its representation of Member States in agreed areas. » he stressed in front of the national parliament. The minister also intends to seize this opportunity to repeat “ his opposition to the planned budget increase of 5,8% (27 million euros) for 2012 » believing that the service must first “ produce a convincing savings plan to remain in line with budget neutrality ". Somehow, if you want new posts, delete some elsewhere.

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).