EU External Action - As seen from the United States

23 March 2012

The European External Action Service (EEAS) as a reality is only 13 months old, João Vale de Almeida, the head of the EU Delegation to the United States, told participants in an EPC Breakfast Policy Briefing.

"We are progressively and gradually but in a determined way – and in my view a successful way – establishing what this reality should be," he said.

The picture from Washington was "positive", said Almeida, who has helped to steer the EU-US relationship through the transition to the new foreign policy service.

There is the "best possible" personal chemistry between EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and her US counterpart Hilary Clinton, and "intense cooperation” between the EU's Washington office, the US State Department and the White House, he insisted.

He described three measures of success in the EU-US relationship:

1. Local coordination

The EU Delegation to the US “now has a totally new system in operation,” with Almeida hosting and chairing all coordination meetings with national EU ambassadors in Washington.

There is also more regular direct contact between some national ambassadors and US officials, and weekly meetings of political councillors in all policy sectors. The whole effort is boosted by close cooperation between all the EU national delegation leaders, who share documents and positions, the ambassador explained.

2. Local recognition

“It is an asset for Europe to operate in Washington as a bloc of 27 (soon to be 28) nations plus the European Commission. The result is an increasing common purpose,” said Almeida, who insisted that the bloc was now recognised as a natural and pragmatic partner.

3. Local visibility

The EU is "a strange animal" for Americans: trying to explain the relationship between its institutions – not to mention between its High Representative and various presidents – is not easy, the ambassador said.

The quality of the EU relationship with the US is sounder than ever, despite inevitable "tensions" over some issues, such as Balkan policy, Almeida claimed.

Generally, on the sweep of foreign and economic policy it’s hard to find real differences between the EU and the US – that too is a measure of the success of opening up access at the highest level, he said.