There is a lot of speculation about the nature of the EEAS these days. Last week the first names for the top posts have been leaked to the press. Since then there has been a fight about organigramms or how a diplomat expressed it: “There’s probably a draft organigram on every floor of every EU building in Brussels”. Some organigramms (another one) also appeared online.
This week Cathy Ashton clashed again with the European Parliament and it seems the Parliament gets a few concessions regarding the important budgetary oversight - and the not so important details about EP visits to delegation… However, in the committee earlier this week it seemed to me that most MEPs were more concerned with posts, geographical balance, and gender quotas. Don’t get me wrong, this is important but it might not be the most important issue for the EEAS at the moment.
But I think we should not get carried away by the EEAS. Basically the EEAS is a institutional cleaning exercise. The (IMHO: modest) idea is to streamline decision making procedures and put all existing EU foreign policy tools in one institutional framework with one line of command. In other words institutional streamlining. That is the theory but as we see this in itself is rather difficult.
Some people that are close to Ashton don’t seem to trust her and are happy to use a French journalist to publish stories that aim at discrediting her. At the same time turf wars broke out between the European Commission, the Council, the Parliament and the member states about almost all EEAS aspects. But in a way this is a normal reflex when a new institutional framework is created.
And then there is the row about languages: German Foreign Minister Westerwelle wants to make sure that German is an official language. The French Foreign Minister “Secretary of State for European Affairs” (Thanks Andre!) Lallouche wants Cathy Asthon to learn better French. Everyone wants to have a say about the EEAS. People seem to be attracted by diplomatic passports. But nobody thinks about policy innovation and how to actually develop a EU foreign policy. And Cathy Ashton is right: “If we pull together we can safeguard our interests. If not, others will make the decisions for us. It’s that simple.” And please note that she said “safeguard” and not “impose”..
At the moment it seems that the EEAS only exists that national diplomats get another career option. It strikes me why there need to be national diplomats in the EEAS if member states did not give up anything. They keep their embassies and foreign ministries and do not delegate any new responsibility to the EEAS. But this seemed to be the price for the double hatted High Rep. and a bit of institutional streamlining… After all, the Lisbon treaty is quite a modest reform treaty and in many ways the lowest common denominator.
So, CSDP decisions still require unanimity in the Council. And there don’t seem to be any plans to communitarise anything in the future! (EEAS to deal with Schengen Visas would have been an option, also consular services in general) We will see a rebranding of existing EC delegations. Incremental changes might lead to some good outcomes. Generally, implementation might indeed improve - but the decisions about the priorities will not improve at all. Some cooperation practices in international organisations might be improved and some funding lines might work better. So far the EEAS debate has not focused on any innovative new policies. Everyone seems to hope that once it is in place everything will go a bit more smoothly and coherently. But there is hardly any dramatic change for EU foreign policy on the horizon.
So what could be done to give a innovative boost to the EEAS? Maybe some member states should consider closing some embassies!? Governmental spending is huge and national budget deficits are rising. Wouldn’t that be a good justification to close a few expensive embassies that mainly serve representative functions? Here is the deal: If you close an embassy – one of your diplomats will become head of a EEAS embassy!