Blog AnalysisEEAS High Representative

The diplomatic service: a year but not yet all its teeth

(Brussels2, 2011 report) The European diplomatic service celebrates the 1er January its first year of existence. Forceps birth left its mark. But the road to European diplomacy still seems long.

NB: this article is a slightly longer version than the one published in the Expansion Letter in preview – Monday December 19 – © and quotes from the Expansion Letter, obligatory, even for a short citation

One of the main innovations of the Lisbon Treaty, the European External Action Service (EEAS) is in place. A small miracle in itself. But it will take more than a few months to achieve full results. " It is a work of five to ten years minimum does not hesitate to confide Pierre Vimont, the head of the SEAE and former chief of staff of Dominique de Villepin at the Quai d'Orsay. " 30 years even ". There are still great differences between the Member States, the European Commission and the European Parliament on what European diplomacy should be. On the side of the Commission, we feel the newcomer as a " intergovernmental shift aimed at limiting his power. Member States fear an abandonment of sovereignty. Fear sharpened by the reduction in resources in each country. The current budget cuts are indeed leading many chancelleries to close consulates or embassies around the world.

One year of implementation

The restructuring, the merging of different administrations (Commission and Council), of different bodies (diplomats, technicians, military and Member States), of different cultures into a single one… is also not self-evident. A good part of 2011 was devoted to administrative tasks: development of procedures, recruitment, organization of offices, etc. Recruiting new employees took up quite a bit of time, not to mention departures and resignations... The department received “ nearly 9000 applications for a total of 181 positions available testifies David O'Sullivan, the administrative director of the EEAS.

An unparalleled network

The great strength of the European diplomatic service, however, lies in its delegations. It is present in 137 countries, including the last two (Libya, South Sudan). This makes the European Union one of the leading diplomatic networks in the world. But, between managing and controlling the allocation of funds by the Commission – which is what EU delegations did until now – and producing political analysis and high-level meetings, the characteristic of an embassy, ​​there is one step away. To strengthen this political aspect, it is necessary to recruit, develop alert procedures, have encrypted transmission systems, and design standard diplomatic telegrams. And, above all, change the culture and mindset on a daily basis. “ Some delegations have understood. And we receive high-quality telegrams, every day or even several times a day, in others there is still… work recognizes an adviser to the High Representative.

A dense organization chart

The EEAS is still fishing in its organization. Designed empirically, the flowchart has become unreadable. Alongside the traditional hierarchical structure (geographical or thematic departments), several independent departments have been added (audit, legal, political unit planning, etc.), not to mention the many free electrons (see box, below). A “board” is supposed to coordinate the whole. When everyone is there, we can reach 140 people, including assistants “comments an agent. A true self-managed worker cooperative. One " nice mess rather taunts a diplomat. Especially since the short circuits are numerous. We lose " a lot of time internally “says another. The flow of information between the EEAS and the Member States and within the service still remains a weak point. The Benelux States had formally complained to the High Representative of not receiving enough information; this point was again put on the table by the letter of the Twelve Foreign Ministers.

Delicate relations with other actors

The problem for the service is to manage its relations with the other institutions. The most critical point is with the Development DG, placed under the authority of another Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, and also undergoing internal reorganization. According to the agreement signed in the European Parliament, the EEAS draws up the general lines of action; and it is up to DG Development to develop and apply them. In fact, development specialists do not want to hear of EEAS supervision and do what they normally do. " We went for years without the EEAS. It's not today that we're going Modify. » is the feeling generally shared among “DevCos” who fear that development projects will be placed under supervision with more vague political objectives. A complicated situation indeed. As one official sums it up: “ We cannot ask the DevCo to be only the accountants of the operations that the EEAS engages. »

Relations with Herman Van Rompuy's department are also not always easy. While the EEAS is supposed to prepare the positions of the President of the European Council, he has his own cabinet which writes their own analyses. Van Rompuy is sometimes delighted to give the pawn to the High Representative, in particular to receive foreign personalities, as recently with Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, or Medvedev, the Russian president. The principle of “sharing” is, in fact, that the High Representative receives the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the President of the European Council or/and the President of the European Commission, heads of state or government. A beautiful principle on paper but which subsequently has negative effects on the role of the High Representative. In crisis zones, in fact, there are discussions to be held directly with the head of the executive and not only with a minister.

A first success

However, the new EEAS has a first success to its credit: the Balkans. By succeeding in engaging under the aegis of a British diplomat in the service, Robert Cooper, direct negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo, the Europeans played rather shrewdly. " Service integration worked commented an expert on the matter. And the deployment of a mission of 2000 police officers, judges and customs officers directly dependent on the diplomatic service, made it possible to have a relay on the ground. " Having a direct line between the head of mission and the political authority is an asset recognizes a soldier.

The big bang of moving

The EEAS is expected to move into a new building in the coming months, The Capitals, which will make it possible to group most of the services in a single location, whereas today they are dispersed over several sites. A “big bang” feared but also hoped for. The success of the diplomatic service today depends on its “ ability to get staff from different national and institutional cultures to work together » underlines a French diplomat. What constitutes its handicap today – the absence of a common culture – could well constitute its strength tomorrow – by mixing different cultures.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Free electrons. The EEAS has a number of "free" electrons recruited intuitu personae. We thus find the Spaniard Bernardino Leon, a former close adviser to Zapatero, in charge of democracy in the Arab world, or the Greek Alex Rondos, close to G. Papandreou, who has just been appointed for the Horn of Africa. The High Representative, Catherine Ashton, has thus made it her specialty to recover, or fish out, close advisers of European leaders who have been sidelined. It also has the Briton Robert Cooper, who is its special adviser, one of the oldest in the European foreign service since he joined in 2002. Or Agostino Miozzo, a veteran of Italian civil protection, responsible for coordinating the "response of crisis”. To avoid the repetition of the void after the earthquake in Haiti.

Read also: To your boxes! We are moving

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).

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