On the evening of Friday 30 October 2009, I expect EU heads of state will have approved the broad brush picture of the new European External Action Service (diplomatic corps, see this column in yesterday's newsletter). This will not put an end to the doubts, perplexities and downright disagreements about what the diplomatic corps should actually do (and how it should do it). Many areas still need clarification,, naturally enough, because the new diplomatic corps will be the mechanism through which the EU will decide upon its foreign policy and put it into practice, which will in turn determine Europe's weight in the world and its position on the world stage.
Troublesome seating arrangements. Even things which look rather bureaucratic at first sight actually involve complex political manoeuvrings. Issues like how the diplomatic corps should be made up. It is said that from an initial batch of several hundred, over time it would gradually take on some 5,000 diplomats or officials. It has been agreed that there would be three categories of staff - European Commission officials, Council officials, and seconded diplomats from the member states. Some member states want broadly similar numbers in each category, while others want the national diplomats to outnumber the civil servants. Small and medium-sized countries fear dominance by the big countries, which already have more civil servants in the EU institutions. When selecting diplomats, to what extent should the size of the population of the different member states be a decisive factor, taking precedence over the abilities and expertise of the individuals involved? The document currently being drawn up will simply stress the importance of respecting the requirement of geographical balance. It has been agreed, however, that the diplomatic corps will replace existing European Commission delegations in countries outside the EU, and will do the work currently carried out by the rotating presidencies of the Council of the EU in representing the European Union abroad.
Key prerogatives to be protected. The most controversial issue is that of how the European Commission will interact with the diplomatic corps because this will directly impact on the Commission's powers and autonomy, and hence the Community method itself. Three fundamentals spring to mind :
a) Trade policy. Trade is the only fully “common” EU foreign policy at present, not simply in terms of spirit both also how it is managed. The Commission negotiates trade issues with non-EU countries (in line with instructions from the Council of Ministers) and speaks on behalf of everyone. The Commission has a dominant role in some areas, like anti-dumping measures. It will not be easy to determine how it will mesh with the new diplomatic corps;
b) Development policy. In practice, this involves relations with an impressive number of countries and, above all, managing donations of financial aid to the tune of several billion US dollars from the EU budget or the European Development Fund;
c) EU enlargement. This is an area where countries decide on crucial issues themselves, but it is the Commission that negotiates with candidate countries and assesses their merits.
The Commission wants to keep its powers of course, and no member state is challenging this, but Germany, France and the United Kingdom are reported to have said that they believe the High Representative should, as vice-president of the European Commission, head a group of EU commissioners whose powers impact on foreign affairs: not just trade, development and EU enlargement, but also areas with a clear foreign policy dimension, like energy and transport.
Question marks. Spain is reported to be demanding that development aid should focus more on EU foreign policy objectives, but the trend of viewing aid as an aspect of foreign policy is not shared by all member states and is challenged by non-governmental organisations. One NGO, Eurostep, says the prime aim of aid should be to get people out of poverty, and development policy should not be covered by the new diplomatic corps (see issue 10,000 of this newsletter). Dieter Frisch, a former director general for Development Aid at the European Commission, said “development cooperation is an EU foreign action mechanism, not a CFSP mechanism”.
Many other issues remain to be settled because stubborn facts of political life just keep on multiplying. Things like Russia's membership criteria for joining the World Trade Organisation and the complications of Kazakhstan and Belarus - is this part of EU trade policy or EU foreign policy? And the prospect of EU accession talks with Kosovo (a country not even recognised by five EU member states). Would this be covered by enlargement policy or the diplomatic corps? And what about the planned agreement with Morocco on immigration?
Much food for thought remains on the menu for the EU's new foreign policy.