The creation of a European diplomatic service is one of the long expected innovations brought in by the Lisbon Treaty. A fundamental of European integration is the belief that the EU has a global mission, but so far it has lacked the tools to carry this out.
This might be changing however with the new post of High Representative of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy held by Baroness Catherine Ashton and the upcoming European External Action Service (EEAS).
According to the Treaty, the Council is responsible for setting up the EEAS, a not-so-easy task given that the body is supposed to be a mixture of the Commission and the Council.
With concrete proposals expected from Baroness Ashton end March and a final agreement end April, it is hard to go further than questions:
What will be the structure?
Which kind of and how many national diplomats will be put forward by the Member States?
What portfolios will it share with or take over from the Commission (development and cooperation, humanitarian aid, neighbourhood policy)?
Who will represent the EU in major negotiations, for example on trade and climate change?
For those interested in the details, Europolitics gathered draft organisational charts from Baroness Ashton (page 1) and a counter proposal from the German delegation (page 2).
Hence there are many options and many complications even before you take into account that the European Parliament (EP) wants to scrub in. The EP is not supposed to have much to say on it but is playing the card “if you want me to approve any budget on this, you better let me in on all the rest”.
MEPs Elmar Brok (EPP, German) and Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, Belgium) for the Foreign and the Constitutional Affairs Comittees respectively are leading this battle. They have expressed 7 priorities highlighting two main preoccupations, namely oversight from the Parliament and as much influence as possible for the Commission on the EEAS to “protect” it from being controlled by national agendas (also see page 3 of the Europolitics document).
The final question, however, lies in the national agendas. Regardless of the body or the structure, the point is how much of a mandate will the EU nations give to the EEAS?
It will take years of work for national players to develop enough trust both in the body – to defend their best interests – and in the system – so that they accept losing on some issues whilst knowing they will win on others.