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June 18, 2005

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The EU Foreign Ministry and Union Embassies

Laura Rayner

Executive Summary

The European Union (EU) is creating a new foreign service, and associated embassy network, to support its ambitions to a global foreign and security policy. The work picked up momentum in connection with the evolution of the draft Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe, which provides for the new post of EU Foreign Minister. The ratification of the Treaty will be hotly contested in 2005 and possibly into 2006, but even if the treaty is not ratified, there are good reasons and enough of a legal basis for the EU to press ahead with some form of revamped foreign service and revitalised embassy network of the sort foreshadowed in the draft Treaty.

In establishing the new foreign service, unofficially called for now the European External Action Service (EEAS), there are three main issues to address: an imbalance of power and finance between the Secretariat of the European Council and the European Commission; a lack of coordination between member states’ bilateral policies and those of EU institutions; and weak coordination among the three main EU institutions with a role in foreign policy (the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament). There is also a lack of accountability for some aspects of European foreign policy because of attenuated lines of authority (the Commission often implements Council decisions) and because of the relatively weak committee system in the European Parliament.

Regardless of the outcome of the ratification processes for the Constitutional Treaty, the EU should proceed with appointment of an EU ‘foreign minister’ by providing for the High Representative for CFSP to hold simultaneously the post of Vice President of the Commission and Commissioner for External Relations. This is the only way that a new EEAS can be effective. The EU must then give this ‘Union Minister of Foreign Affairs’ (UMFA) clear lines of administrative and budgetary authority for the EEAS.

The establishment of the new EEAS should be aimed at more than a clean up of current messy arrangements and its design should not be constrained by existing institutional structures or bureaucratic traditions where these hamper its ability to support decisive and effective EU action. But there is one big obstacle. The Commission has a legal identity that distinguishes it from the Council and its subsidiary organs, like the proposed EEAS. Yet for many reasons, it is inconceivable that the EEAS can be formed without considerable intrusion of Commission structures, procedures and personnel. The marriage of the separate Council and Commission functions in one effective EEAS bureaucracy will therefore demand considerable political effort at the highest levels over a very long time. And it will be a marriage in which ‘divorce’ is inconceivable. The EEAS will need to progressively build its legitimacy within the EU institutions and with member states.


A number of different models for the EEAS structure have already been proposed. While the most likely choice for a structure in the first instance will probably be a version of a minimalist model, the initial EEAS structure and concept should have the flexibility to absorb progressively more functions and more layers of complexity. But even in the minimalist model, for the sake of coherence and consistency, it will be essential to establish a new EEAS headquarters which can bring together both policy development (residing primarily in the Council) and implementation capabilities (residing largely in the Commission). It will be impossible, both legally and logically, to manage the EEAS exclusively through the Commission. Decisions on the future staffing, training, budget and priorities will need to be made with the imprimatur of the Council to suit Council purposes and priorities.

The delegations

Since the formation of the EU in 1992 and the subsequent expansion of EU international identities into the security and police realms, the previously existing EC delegations have taken on, both de jure and de facto, a new legal personality as EU embassies. This emerging legal personality of the delegations as new EU ‘embassies’ has conferred progressively wider responsibilities (‘powers’) on the heads of mission than those nominally held by the heads of Commission delegations. Yet, without additional personnel and financial resources, the delegations will not be able to transform themselves (‘graduate’) to the ‘embassy’ status needed to implement core EU external functions not currently included in Commission competences. There will need to be very clear lines of authority (legal and functional) between the EEAS headquarters and the embassies/delegations, the more so if a minimalist option is pursued and not all policy areas are devolved to posts.

The new status of EU ‘embassies’ will not make the bilateral embassies of Member States redundant, but there will be important questions of rationalisation and economies that present themselves to national governments. EU member states must take this opportunity to redirect scarce national foreign ministry resources to high priority national interests and transfer the common EU ‘foreign policy’ progressively to new EU embassies (as has already occurred with trade negotiations). On consular support, while some have argued for the new EEAS to operate in this area, such work would be an unnecessary distraction from the core business of EU ‘embassies’ and would be impractical from a domestic political standpoint.


The EEAS budget will have different conditions for its control depending on whether funds are for Council or Commission activities, but the UMFA would have authority over both because of his/her simultaneous appointment as Vice President of the Commission. Co-financing through an ‘inter-institutional’ budget would complicate both administration and oversight, but it should not lessen transparency in the budget, nor the role of the European Parliament in budget oversight.


The EEAS should have a flexible staffing structure which should not be frozen into two different functional streams just because the UMFA wears two hats. An individual diplomat can simultaneously represent the Council and the Commission without any difficulty as readily as a ‘Commission’ employee. There should be no attempt to assign a fixed ratio between the three likely sources of personnel (Council, Commission, or Member State). Officials’ ability to move easily between and within Council and Commission functions, between the headquarters and the ‘embassies’/delegations, and between the EEAS and the Council and the Commission will be vital for the development of an effective organisation. Staff mobility could help to build cohesion between the EEAS and Commission units involved in external policy. Encouragement should be given to Council staff and the diplomats of member countries to participate in job rotations to the EEAS headquarters and the ‘embassies’/delegations.

Integrating the posting of diplomats from Member States to the EEAS, especially to delegations, into their career paths should also be encouraged. Officers from Member States should be seconded under similar terms as currently apply to national experts seconded to the Commission, especially with regard to not taking instruction from their national governments while on secondment. It is important that individual jobs do not have national flags attached to them and the merit principle should apply to the selection of Member States’ diplomats and experts for positions in the EEAS.


The EU needs to provide EEAS officers and seconded national diplomats and experts with training to create a common culture and an esprit de corps. Training could be at a new diplomatic academy but there are a number of courses provided by the Commission and at various academic institutions which might be adapted to the needs of the new service. Other levels of training should also be provided in-house, for instance distance education using the internet. Special emphasis will also have to be given to training ‘embassy’/delegation staff to cover their wider responsibilities.


The EU should make a commitment to institute an independent review of the new structure after it has been in operation for at least two years. This review, an audit of its performance, should examine all aspects of the EEAS, including its working relationships with EU institutions and other stakeholders. On the basis of the findings of the review the EU should decide whether the functions of the EEAS should be expanded. The process and results of the review should be public.

Next Steps for Brussels

How fast and how far should the EEAS develop? An ambitious structure and timetable might circumvent wasteful inter-institutional infighting or duplication but could have an unnecessarily negative impact on the politics associated with further ‘constitutional’ reform. Too cautious an approach risks not achieving the new levels of effectiveness demanded by EU ambitions and aspirations. Unfortunately but realistically, the EEAS is unlikely to spring to life fully formed at an appointed date, but rather, given the traditions of the EU, the new EEAS will evolve over time, gradually accumulating both recognition and power.

The very least that the EU should plan for in the first instance would be an EEAS which amalgamates the Directorate General External Relations and the Policy Unit from the Council with DG RELEX (and the current External Service) from the Commission, with the clear understanding that this structure is not set in concrete. There would need to be agreement that this initial EEAS should have the flexibility to absorb other external action functions from the Commission over time.

Next Steps for Britain and other Member States

The reforms mooted for the foreign affairs and security institutions of the EU in Brussels and in the field should not proceed without commensurate reform and re-shaping of national foreign and defence ministries. In an era of expanding responsibilities for foreign and defence ministries and shrinking or static resource allocations to them by national governments, the opportunity for economies and reprioritisation at home presented by reform of the EU’s central institutions should not be passed up. Britain must shave away those staff posts and policy areas in London and in its own embassies that are adequately covered by Brussels or its delegations under CFSP.

Britain must use its Presidency of the EU to vigorously shape the reforms of the EU foreign and security policy apparatus in Brussels and abroad. Britain should look to publish a Green paper on reform of EU CFSP institutions to strengthen their legitimacy among a Euro-sceptic electorate.

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