[lg policy] Can a European diplomatic service really work? And what ’s the official language of the EAS going to be? French or English?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Mar 11 14:15:21 UTC 2010

Can a European diplomatic service really work?
Mar 10, 2010 09:45 EST
Ashton | European Commission | european parliament | european union |
foreign affairs | foreign policy
As experiments in political unity go, Europe’s External Action Service
takes some beating.

The budding diplomatic corps of the European Union, with a name that
sounds like an off-shoot of Britain’s SAS, is supposed to represent
the unified interests of the EU’s 27 member states to the rest of the

With a staff expected to number 6,000, including 3,000 diplomats in
more than 120 missions, setting up the EAS is akin to creating a
high-powered, multi-lingual, global PR, trade and aid organisation
almost overnight. It doesn’t happen very often. And perhaps
unsurprisingly, it’s not very easy to do.

The person responsible for overseeing it is Britain’s Catherine
Ashton, a former hospital administrator and EU trade commissioner who
is now the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security

Ashton laid out some of her vision for the EAS to the European
Parliament on Wednesday, calling it a “once-in-a-generation”
opportunity to build an organisation that brings the EU’s political
strategy together in one place. But she also acknowledged some of the
difficulties she faces.

“Any time you create something new, there will be resistance,” she
said. “This is a huge chance for Europe. We should not lower our
ambitions but rather give ourselves the means to realise them. This is
a moment to see the big picture, be creative and take collective

She was referring, almost inevitably, to the infighting that has
already engulfed the service, with EU member states, the European
Parliament and the European Commission, the body that drafts and
enforces EU rules, scrapping over who should have the most say in how
the EAS is structured and run.

One area of tension is whether the Commission can let go of some of
its core areas of competence, such as trade and overseas aid, and
leave policy setting and implementation up to the new foreign service.
Another is how much input smaller countries in the EU, such as
Lithuania and Estonia, are going to have in the leadership of major EU
missions abroad. Do their national foreign policies suddenly get
subsumed into EU foreign policy? And what’s the official language of
the EAS going to be? French or English?

All those issues — and plenty more that are too nitty-gritty to
mention — need to be resolved by the end of April, the deadline Ashton
originally set for getting the ’structure and scope’ of the EAS
finalised, and one that already looks likely to be missed.

It may take many years before the EAS is up and running smoothly,
delivering a cohesive EU foreign policy to the world and being dealt
with in return as the representative body of 27 European countries.
And even then big EU states with long foreign policy histories such as
Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain are going to be running
their own diplomatic networks in parallel with the EAS, and will more
than likely be giving them far more importance.

Will the EAS succeed? As Ashton herself told the parliament on
Wednesday: “If we get it right, as we must, then we will be able to
shape a European foreign policy for the 21st century… one where we
mobilise all our levers of influence — political, economic,
development and crisis management tools — in a coordinated way.”

She didn’t say what would happen if she got it wrong.


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