The European External Action Service - A new impetus for EU foreign policy?

31 January 2011

Rosa Balfour, EPC Senior Policy Analyst, referred to the ‘baptism of fire’ of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and comments that it isn’t living up to expectations.

Graham Avery, EPC Senior Advisor, said that foreign policy is the last big area where the EU can do more for its citizens. He highlighted six points about the EEAS:

  • it will enrich European policy making and national diplomacy;
  • it should provide effective and economical diplomatic services for the EU and member states;
  • it is crucial for the short term future of the EEAS to have effective leadership and some rapid successes;
  • the majority of national diplomats in EEAS will learn to act and think as Europeans;
  • resources have not been devoted to strategic planning;
  • there needs to be an adequate plan for training.

He expressed concern about the risk of friction and rivalry between the Commission and the EEAS.

Franziska Brantner, Member of the European Parliament said that it was unrealistic to expect the EEAS to immediately deliver on ‘one voice – one message’. But it could facilitate one message, and be more proactive in helping member states come to one opinion. There was a problem with lack of coherent action, and sometimes competition and rivalry between the Council Secretariat and the Commission. One challenge for the EEAS would be to overcome this incoherence. If the EEAS is to be more proactive it will need more money, and this needs to be seen in a holistic framework.

Antonio Missiroli, Head of the European Dialogue Section, Bureau of European Policy Advisers, European Commission, said the place of the EU in the world 20 years from now will not be determined by the EEAS or EU foreign policy but by:

  •  structural reforms at home;
  • the governance given to the Eurozone;
  • member states ability to act together on issues such as climate, energy and raw materials.

Foreign policy is being increasingly ‘presidentialised’, which has important implications for the remit, the scope and the margins of manoeuvre of the EEAS and the way policy and politics are shaped in the EU. The inbuilt limits of the EEAS, and the role of Baroness Ashton, is ‘mission impossible’. 

Poul Skytte Christoffersen, Ambassador of Denmark to Belgium; former Special Adviser to High Representative Catherine Ashton on the EEAS, said the EEAS may seem to be a ‘mission impossible’ but the mission could be accomplished. There need to be realistic benchmarks. The EEAS should ideally be a service that is more reflective in its approach, more systematic, more capable of uniting various instruments in its policy palette than member states are.