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The Council of Defense Ministers… among the invisible

By abandoning the field of communication, the High Representative leaves the field open to criticism. Like a goalkeeper who abandons the goal cage before a penalty (credit: Fotolia)

(BRUSSELS2) The meeting of the Council of Defense Ministers ended with a hiccup yesterday. Again ! Around 19:30 p.m., at the end of the council, the ministers come out one by one and, as usual, stop (or not – it depends on their mood) in front of the journalists to give their impression. This is the case of the Frenchman Gérard Longuet, the Pole Bogdan Klich… But, contrary to custom, the current President of the Council (in this case, Cathy Ashton, the High Representative) did not come down to report to the press release of the Council meeting. This is not the first time that the High Representative has refused to hold a press conference or cut it short.

What is more notable, however, is that no EEAS official or press officer felt obliged to inform the dozen journalists who remained there, despite everything, of the Council's results. This is in flagrant contradiction with the rules of transparency that the Council of Ministers of the EU has set, under the impetus of the Finnish and Swedish presidencies in particular (*), and with the practices followed until now by each presidency rotating.

This practice is not entirely harmless. We know that European defense was not a priority for the High Representative. We know his desire not to give Defense Ministers too important and formal a role (witness the hasty way in which the meeting was held and his repeated absences). We now have, with a succession of other facts (no operation, no impulse, the minimum of reporting), new proof of his desire to unravel the patient work carried out by his predecessors, to build a European security policy. and Common Defense (CSDP), and beyond not translating into reality part of the innovations of the Lisbon Treaty.

This practice is also symptomatic of a relationship, which can be described as “bad”, between the press and Lady Ashton. Criticisms are increasing against him. Often rightly so. Sometimes just out of ignorance. And it's not likely to get better. Especially if the High Representative openly complains about it to Ministers. However, the European Diplomatic Service (EEAS) is gradually finding its place, its rhythm. He is becoming increasingly involved in very political issues. The first results are there, as the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alain Juppé, rightly pointed out. But many of his actions are unfortunately unknown… quite simply for ego problems. It's a shame…

Contrary to what those around Lady Ashton think, the press is not, in fact, an enemy of the High Representative, it reports what is happening, what is transpiring, according to the information made available to it or that she gets. By cutting off the information lines, the High Representative is simply shooting herself in the foot. It allows critics to express themselves even more easily, quite simply by giving them a monopoly on expression. It's like a goalkeeper leaving the cage before the penalty. It's mathematical...

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* Uses formalized in the “Council information guide”: “ The President of the Council holds press conferences after each ministerial session — and often also during breaks — to inform journalists of the Council's decisions and conclusions. He is regularly accompanied by the relevant member(s) of the European Commission. » « In addition, throughout the Council session, the spokespersons for the Presidency and the High Representative, the members of the press service, the spokespersons for the Member States and the Commission held the press aware of the progress of the work. »

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).