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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).

The European Parliament will not let the Commission and the Council set up the new body by themselves. Source:

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.

– Talander

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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!

– Denis

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Verhofstadt eyes up his eurosceptic opposition

Verhofstadt eyes up his eurosceptic opposition

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…

– Felix

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Barroso at risk?

Barroso at risk?

As expected (see Elections re-shape party alliances), the Socialist group in the European Parliament has agreed to re-brand in a move to welcome the main Italian’s opposition party, the Partito Democratico (PD). In the past legislature, the Partido Democratico was split between the PES and the ALDE, putting the Italian Democrats in an uncomfortable position.

Renaming the “Party of European Socialists” as the “Alliance of Socialists and Democrats” (ASDE) was not an easy task due to the opposition of several socialist MEPs, scared of losing the socialist essence of the second largest group of the Parliament. However, the poor election result of the Socialists across Europe made the re-branding a less bitter pill to swallow and the Socialists were finally pleased to welcome their new fellow-members.

The first consequence of this move is numeric, and as such, political: the current 162 MEP strong socialist group will be propped up by another 21 members from Italy, which will also significantly shift the left-right balance of the parliament back towards the centre, thereby making centre left majorities more likely again. Second, the PES is opening-up to a wider spectrum of parties across Europe, possibly attracting further MEPs into their group. Finally, the move could increase the growing support for Mr Guy Verhofstadt to replace Barroso at the helm of the European Commission: one of the conditions for the Italian Democrats to join the new group was that they would oppose a new term for Barroso.

It is therefore no accident that Socialist leader Martin Schulz was quoted yesterday strongly opposing Barroso’s run for a new term. Today, the NUE/GUL group also suggested that it would rather support Guy Verhofstadt than Barroso. The Socialists, the Liberals, and the Greens have now announced their dissatisfaction with the Portuguese candidate.

The coming weeks will be exciting indeed…the scene is set; let the political wheeling and dealing begin!

– Ilja and Felix

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So, with the European Parliament elections rapidly approaching, the horse-trading between political parties from across the whole spectrum has intensified as factions look to the future and, more importantly, for new buddies to befriend in the next Parliament. Conflicting visions of Europe, party strategies to get more seats and personal rivalries for top jobs are already resulting in the dismantling and creation of European political parties.

The UK Tories announced some time ago that they would leave the EPP-ED after the elections to form their own euro-sceptic party.

Now it looks like the ALDE is facing problems on several fronts. First up, the next Commission President… a fringe of the party is not supportive of Barroso, favouring instead the Italian Mario Monti or the Belgian Guy Verhofstadt. Add to the equation that the Italian members of ALDE might join the Socialists because of a recent merger between the Italian socialist and centrist parties, and it appears that the Liberals could be a much-changed entity in the new Parliament.

Finally, rumor has it that the new name of the Party of European Socialists could be changed into the ‘Alliance of Socialists and Democrats’ to reflect the possible absorption of the Italian dissidents. When vying for seats in the EP, changing party names and alliances do not seem to matter so much: ‘a rose by any other name will smell as sweet’.

– Michele and Victoria

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