A Rushed EEAS?

Credit: European Parliament
Credit: European Parliament

In a report published on June 30th, 2014, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) finds that the European External Action Service (EEAS) is “operational,” but that “the establishment of the EEAS was rushed and inadequately prepared, beset by too many constraints and vaguely defined tasks.” The reports produced by ECA, based in Luxembourg, are not binding, but EU institutions has “good track record” of implementing the recommendations.

Basics on the EEAS

The EEAS was created by the Treaty of Lisbon (2009). A year later, the EEAS was finally designed and operational counting the headquarter in Brussels and a network of 140 delegations throughout the world. It took quite some times though for the delegations to start fully function as they had to merge the European officials from the Commission (DG RELEX among others) with the ones from the Council (see here the organization chart of the EEAS). As reported in the ECA’s report, the 2014 budget of the EEAS was of 519 million euro, split in two: 41% for the headquarters and 59% for the delegations. It has since then been in search of a clear mission and role in the middle of the European institutional maze between the Council of Ministers, the Commission, the European Parliament, and the 28 national diplomatic corps.

The functioning of the EEAS is extremely complex, as it is neither intergovernmental (like the the Council of Ministers) nor supranational (like the Commission). In fact, the EEAS navigates between the community and intergovernmental decision-making methods. Additionally, the staffing of the EEAS is composed of three different groups with specific competencies: officials from the General Secretariat of the Council (political knowledge); officials from the Commission (technical knowledge); and officials from the Member States’ diplomatic services (national knowledge).

The report

The ECA looked at the establishment of the EEAS from January 2011 to December 2013, and sought to answer the following three questions:

1. Was the establishment of the EEAS adequately prepared?
2. Were the ressources of the EEAS prioritized, organized and allocated efficiently?
3. Has the EEAS coordinated effectively with the Commission and the Member States? 

At the end of the report, the ECA underscores several aspects that should be improved:

  • the simplification of the organizational design of the EEAS (point 73(a));
  • a new strategic framework for EU foreign affairs examined with the Commission and the Member States (point 73(b));
  • improve relations with the Commission (point 73(c));
  • improve allocations of ressources, appointment and recruitment procedures (point 73(d,e,f));
  • increase information-sharing (point 73(g));

Interestingly, the report looks at the costs of the EEAS for the Member States. The ECA correctly demonstrates that the creation of a new institution costs money (the entire International Relations literature on neoliberalism explains very well the cost-benefit calculation behind the creation of institutions); however, the ECA underscores the fact that the EEAS has saved money to the Member States on providing political reporting, lesser workload for the rotating presidencies, and seconded diplomats are paid by the EEAS (point 22 p.10).

A double-hatted chief

The Treaty of Lisbon created a double-hatted position of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission in order to facilitate – at least on paper – the coordination

Photo by EPA/BGNES
Photo by EPA/BGNES

between the EU and the Member States. At the distinction of her predecessor, Javier Solana, HR Ashton was at the helm of European diplomacy centralized around the European External Action Service (EEAS).

This report comes at the right time in light of the soon to come appointment of the next High Representative. HR Ashton has demonstrated clear political and foreign policy weaknesses, but has managed to create the EEAS and make it operational a year after the Treaty of Lisbon. HR Ashton will most likely be remember more for her administrative skills, rather than her strategic vision. The next HR (read a previous analysis on the three top candidates for the job) will inherit a powerful and complex institution with large human and financial capitals. A failure to empower the EEAS by the new HR may be the dagger in the heart of this young institution.

Certainly the appointment of the new HR on July 16th, 2014 will be instrumental for the future of the EEAS. The EEAS certainly needs some organizational revisions and adjustments, but it greatly needs a clear strategic vision in dealing with the broad global shift occurring. In some degree, a savvy foreign policy leader, like the first HR Javier Solana, could provide the framework of a global European strategy. The foundations for actions are always the same, multilateralism – effective multilateralism based in the 2003 European Security Strategy – and strategic partnerships. But the EU is still missing a clear definition of its ‘national interest’ (even though such concept is difficulty applicable for a sui-generis actor like the EU). EU Member States ought to finally tackle the contentious question of European interest. The starting point could come from the EEAS.


A last point shall be underscored. The EEAS has certainly not reached its potential. But the Treaty of Lisbon did not take one important dimension into consideration. The competition between the EU Member States and EU institutions, especially the EEAS, has been fierce in the realm of foreign and defense policies. Powerful Member States, like France and Britain, have when needed sidelined the EEAS in order to advance and promote its interests and influences at the expense of the Union.

One of the five dimensions of the Strategic Agenda laid out by EU leaders at the European Council’s meeting late June underscored the centrality to revigorate the Union’s global aura. The Council’s report states that:

Recent events show how fast-shifting the strategic and geopolitical environment has become, not  least at the Union’s eastern and southern borders. Instability in our wider neighbourhood is at an all-time high. At the same time it has never been as important to engage our partners on issues of mutual or global interest. To defend our interests and values and to protect citizens, a stronger engagement of the European Union in world affairs is crucial.

The blame falls across the board: institutional, Member States, international and financial forces. The creation and establishment of the EEAS came at the time of great institutional and domestic turmoils blowing throughout the Union. With the Eurozone crisis peaking with an eventual default of Greece and the collapse of several large European economies, the developments of a European foreign policy and an EU diplomatic corps were not the priorities from most EU Member States. The Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) was a luxury good, even though required due to the seriousness of regional wars in the 1990s, in time of crisis. HR Ashton had certainly dealt with a very difficult political and economic context making her job even tougher.

The EEAS has not attained the degree of relevance once hope for several reasons: reticence of powerful EU Member States (namely France and Britain), institutional maze between the Commission, EEAS and Parliament, limited leadership from top EU diplomats. Additionally, it seems that the EEAS has been more playing catch up than actually shaping events. The multitude of crises, starting with the Arab Spring, Ukraine-Russia, Syria, Mali, Libya, Egypt, CAR, Iran, Iraq, seems to have been left to certain Member States. The EEAS has shined through its absence and irrelevance in stabilizing Europe’s backyard and neighborhood.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

One thought on “A Rushed EEAS?

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s