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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.
The growing buzz around the possible nomination of Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy as future President of the European Council has revived old community ghosts and fears of another long political deadlock for Belgium.
A majority of Belgian people (even among the Francophones) are flattered and honoured that a Belgian politician may eventually become the first permanent President of the European Council, but at the same time, everybody is wondering what will happen to Belgium.
In TV reports, you can hear people saying “For once we had stability, but now he’s going to leave” and asking “who will replace him?”
For Flemish politicians, the answer is simple and obvious. Yves Leterme. Indeed, the current Belgian Foreign Minister and Prime Minister twice in the past seems to be the front runner to replace Mr Rompuy.
But for the Francophones, this is not good news. According to a recent poll, 61% of them think that the return of Mr Leterme will threaten the future of Belgium. Other Francophone politicians are calling for another General Election or even trying to bumble Mr Van Rompuy’s candidacy by stating he is not suited for the post as his political party refuses to ratify the convention of the Council of Europe on the protection of minorities… Francophone paranoia? Belgian Thriller ? Who knows ?
Van Rompuy knows that if he takes up the post of EU Council President this will mean another crisis. The debate is therefore much less about the next EU President and much more about the next Belgian Prime Minister. Van Rompuy? Leterme? Verhofstadt? Dehaene? Keyser Söze ? The usual suspects! As you can see there are nearly as many candidates for this position as for the EU job!
After the EPP, the newly-termed PASD (Socialists), and the Greens had elected their leaders last week, the Parliament’s third force, the Liberal ALDE group finally followed suit yesterday by nominating Guy Verhofstadt as their new leader. Since the support for his candidature was so overwhelming, Diana Wallis, the only other serious contender for the post, dropped out of the race before it even came to the vote.
It will be interesting to see in which direction the former Belgian Prime Minister steers the European Liberals in the coming months. No doubt his nomination as group leader will set off some heated confrontations between the currently-confident Eurosceptics and the markedly Euro-federalist Verhofstadt.
Within his own party, composed of diverse representatives from around 18 Member States, there could yet be some sensitivity towards Verhofstadt’s ambition to create a “United States of Europe”, a stance that had previously led to his defeat in the 2004 nomination race for President of the Commission.
In an ironic twist, Verhofstadt, who just a couple of weeks ago was one of the most likely contenders to challenge Mr Barroso, may now actually play a crucial role in re-nominating his former opponent for a second term. Verhofstadt will now make his support for Barroso subject to a number of concessions, one of which may be a liberal President of the European Parliament. Finally, Graham Watson’s dream may come true…