EU's Ashton Fills Two Top Slots in its Fledgling Diplomatic Corps     Print Email

The European External Action Service took another step forward today by naming the people who will occupy the two top posts in the service representing the EU around the world: Pierre Vimont, currently French ambassador to Washington, will be the Executive Secretary General heading policy formulation and David O’Sullivan, a top Irish civil servant who has held key positions at the European Commission, will be the Chief Operating Officer managing the new service.

More senior appointments are expected in the coming days and weeks as the European ‘diplomatic corps’ aims to come into force on 1 December, in time for the first  anniversary of the Lisbon Treaty, which re-enforced the EU's foreign policy role and created this service.

In announcing the appointments, Commission Vice-President Catherine Ashton, who is the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security, said in a written statement that “I promised to appoint the brightest and best and in Pierre Vimont …and David O'Sullivan …I have done just that. Pierre is held in the highest regard by the diplomatic community and will bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise on foreign policy issues. David has served in the highest capacity in the European Commission, as well as having a diplomatic background. In their respective roles they will help to create a European diplomatic service that the people of Europe can be proud of.”

Indeed, both men will bring a wealth of experience, as well as knowledge of Brussels, to the soon-to-be-up-and-running European External Action Service. Vimont, 61, has a distinguished diplomatic career spanning more than three decades, with special expertise on European matters. He was as chief of staff to France’s minister for European Affairs from 1990 to 1993 – critical years in which EU states were confronting the violent break-up of Yugoslavia -- before becoming ambassador to the EU between 1999 and 2002.

David O’Sullivan, for his part, has been working for the European Commission since 1979. He has occupied a number of posts, including Secretary General of the Commission from 2000 to 2005, and since 2005 he has headed the trade division of the Commission. As Irish Times points out, “it was in this capacity that he first worked with Ms Ashton, who was trade commissioner before her appointment last year as EU High Representative for foreign affairs and security policy.”

With a built-in institutional requirement to balance the interests of the various EU member states and the Commission and its staff (which has handled many EU “foreign policy” issues until now), Ashton is expected to announce other key appointments in the coming days to her team in Brussels and ultimately to EU "embassies" around the world. (Actually, the EU ambassadors in the new service will continue to operate from the EU Delegations in Washington and other capitals, not from “embassies.” This designation will not be changed to “embassy,” a name that implies consular duties and other work that national diplomatic services carry out on behalf of their countries’ citizens and in the name of national sovereignty. The newly empowered EU missions will concern themselves with foreign policy matters that the member states have agreed should be handled via the High Representative and the new service.) At the Brussels headquarters, these include two deputy secretary generals, five managing directors and the head of its intelligence and crisis-management unit, known as the Joint Situation Centre. German EU official Helga Schmid and Poland's Maciej Popowski, currently working as head of the European Parliament President's office, are being talked about in Brussels as the two likely deputy secretary generals

Today’s appointments, perhaps with some other forthcoming ones, are expected to be ratified next Monday at a meeting in Luxemburg where EU officials will sign off on staff regulations as the final procedural act in establishing the new service.

By Garret Martin