A Book Review – The EEAS and National Foreign Ministries

eu-jigsaw-picture

“Conceptualizing EU foreign policy has been a contested matter, reflecting the sui generis nature of the EU as an international actor, and does not lend itself to single interpretative approaches” (Balfour 2015, p.42).

What is the relationship between the European External Action Service (EEAS) and national diplomacies? “Are the ongoing changes pushing towards greater coherence and effectiveness of EU foreign policy or, on the contrary, towards re-nationalization?” (p. 9). These are the overarching research questions of this recently published edited volume, The European External Action Service and National Foreign Ministries. Convergence or Divergence?, under the supervision of Rosa Balfour, Caterina Carta and Kristi Raik.

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Structured in two parts, EEAS and National Foreign Ministries, convincingly analyzes the making and shaping of foreign-policy making between the Member States (MS) and the European Union (EU). The first part lays out the current global context wherein the Europeans are operating, and seeks to look inside the EEAS, its establishment, its staffs, role and the evolution of the relationship with Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFAs). In the second and much longer section composed of eight chapters, each one of them reflects on a or several Member States and on how their national diplomacies are being shaped by or are shaping the EEAS. The Member States selected for this edited volume are, by order, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain and Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands, Sweden and Poland, Greece and Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, Estonia and Finland.

The Evolution of EU Foreign Policy

From the creation of the EU to today, the making of a EU foreign policy has been progressing from an intergovernmental cooperation to becoming a complex ‘service,’ as the EEAS is neither an agency nor an institution, mixing intergovernmentalism and supranationalism (see p.42-4). The 2009 Treaty of Lisbon solidified formal intergovernmentalism in the decision-making, while including supranational dimensions into the CFSP (foreign policy) and the CSDP (defense) (p. 2).

Credit: EEAS

Credit: EEAS

“The relationship between EU foreign policy structures and national diplomacies of the member state” write Balfour, Cart and Raik “is one of the key determinants of the EU’s ability for coherent and effective global action and of Europe’s position in the changing world order” (p.1). Richard Whitman makes a very compelling argument in drawing a complex picture of international relations in the early twenty-first century. Not only, as he writes, there are “changes in the structure of international relations” but as well “changes to patterns and practices in the flow of information” (p.17). European diplomacy is facing ‘outside in’ challenges due to the fragmentation of international relations (economic problems, new world order, intensification of globalization) and ‘inside out’ challenges in order to merging national with European interests.

EU & National Interplay in Foreign-Policy Making

The book’s contribution lays in looking and analyzing the complex interplay in the foreign-policy making between the EEAS and the national actors. The body of the overall arguments is based on the following three interplays (see the figure below):

  • downloading, a top-down process from the EU to the Member States – such process can lead to greater transfer of power to Brussels at the expense of the MFAs and Member States;
  • uploading, a bottom-up process from the Member States to the EU – such process is much more embedded in the inter-state bargaining power logic. MS are pushing for their national interests and preferences at the EU level. The EEAS is perceived as an over-shadowing presence over the MFAs;
  • crossloading, a mutual constitution leading to convergence – such process leads to an elite socialization at the EU level, wherein national and european interests and preferences become intertwined and ultimately converge.
Source:  Balfour, Carta, Raik. 2015. The EEAS and National Foreign Ministries. p. 8

Title: The EEAS and MFAs of the member states in the context of national, European and global structures.                          Source: Balfour, Carta, Raik. 2015. The EEAS and National Foreign Ministries. p. 8

Aside from the analytical framework based on uploading, downloading or crossloading, Whitman makes an important observation when claiming that EU MS often retreat to their national positions when responding to crises. And cooperation at the EU level usually takes place in the aftermath of conflict (p.30). This has been repeated on so many occasions.

MFAs, the EEAS and the World

The three leading EU MS, the UK, France and Germany, have all reacted differently to the creation of the EEAS. Daniel Fiott argues that the UK remains ambivalent about the EEAS.cameron-euro-5_2079690b London is clear on one aspect, “the EEAS must serve the interests of European Union (EU) member states: nothing more, nothing less” (p.75). Under Cameron, the UK has neither contributed to the growth of the EEAS nor the EU.

Fabien Terpan (read here a previous analysis on his article on the financing of CSDP operations) demonstrates that the position of France towards the EEAS is aligned with two core French foreign policy traditions: the Gaullist tradition (grandeur, independence, sovereignty) and the entrenchment of French interests with a deep European commitment. France has principally worked on uploading its national preferences. For the last of the Big three, Cornelius Adebahr argues that Germany is the strongest supporter of the EEAS and does not see it as overshadowing the German Foreign Office. The editors underline that France and the UK are “in a category of their own, […]. The EU, however, is not the only option for their foreign policy actions” (p.200) considering the weight and influence of their MFAs, their seats at the UN Security Council, NATO and other international institutions.

Considering the 11 other Member States selected, the authors underscore how these small, and middle-level powers see their role in the EU and how the EEAS is a way to increase their influence (Portugal and the Netherlands), while others (Poland and Sweden) seek to constantly upload their national foreign policies at the EU level. Considering the domestic context, Italy and Spain have welcomed the EEAS permitting them to maintain their foreign policy weight. Slovenia and Greece initially saw as well the EEAS as an opportunity to upload their priorities, which has gone in vein. In the case of Czech Republic, Estonia and Finland, they consider the EEAS an important instrument in order to reinforce their security from Russia.

The EEAS is a complex agency with different layers and formed on broad composition of staff with former DG RELEX staff, Secretary of Council’ staff and national staff (see chapter 3). It is headed by the HR/VP, Federica Mogherini, whom oversees the overall CFSP and EU foreign policy making process. It is the center of coordination in EU foreign policy making with a horizontal dimension (several EU institutions like the Commission, Parliament, European Council) and a vertical one (28 MFAs) (p. 46-7). Ultimately, “The EEAS epitomizes this hybridity,” writes Balfour “making foreign policy exposed to the strengths and weaknesses of ambiguity” (p.44).

Concluding Remarks

The EEAS and National Foreign Ministries is an important contribution to an under-studied topic. The methodology applied in order to look at the positions of the Member States (semi-structured elite interviews and process-tracing) permits to develop a compelling argument and confirms the expectations of European experts. The editors make a strong case in justifying their qualitative methodology by arguing that the explanatory power of normative and ideational variables is central in order to explain “change, adaptation and reform” (p.196).

This multi-layered foreign-policy making machine – EEAS+COM+EP+EC+EU-28 –

468109400incorporating a juxtaposition of intergovernmentalism and supranationalism into one unit illustrates the degree of complexity in order to foster a common European position on very contentious foreign policy issues like the recognition of Kosovo’ sovereignty, the Iranian nuclear negotiations, relationship with emerging powers like China, India and Brazil, and toughening the voice against Russia. In addition, this book is deeply relevant considering the global and domestic forces affecting the EU and the Member States. The EEAS was institutionally designed at a time of rapid changes and needs to find its voice and role.

The EEAS and National Foreign Ministries is a complete work and very accessible despite the complexity of foreign-policy making in the EU. This edited volume finally stands as a landmark for two reasons: first, each chapter responds to the overall research question, where so many edited volumes have failed to do so; second, it offers a roadmap for understanding European foreign-policy making. This volume lays out the machinery of the EEAS and MFAs, the next volume should look at the way the EEAS and the MFAs work on solving crises like the Arab Spring, war in Syria, Iranian nuclear negotiations, Israeli-Palestinian tensions, relations with each member of the BRICS among many others.

Politipond highly recommends this edited volume and would like to thank Ashgate for providing a complementary copy for review. The book can be bought on Ashgate’s website, here.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
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About politipond

Author - Maxime H. A. Larivé, Ph.D., is a European and transatlantic expert. His book, titled 'Debating European Security and Defense Policy. Understanding the Complexity,' is published with Ashgate.
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One Response to A Book Review – The EEAS and National Foreign Ministries

  1. Pingback: Mogherini’s World – Reflecting on the 2016 EU Global Strategy | politipond

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