European Affairs

Ashton’s success in Geneva, however, does not mean the creation of the EEAS has been a walk in the park. Quite the contrary. ”It was, in a word, tough,” said Ashton, whose formal title is the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security, as she assessed in July 2013 the first two and a half years of the European External Action Service (EEAS).   She first had to overcome major organizational challenges in order to get the service up and running. But, those had paled in comparison to the more substantial obstacles of trying to turn the newly-established EEAS into a service that fosters a more united and effective EU foreign policy.

For many decades, the EU’s member states – especially the bigger states – have yearned in theory for a stronger and united European voice on the world stage.   Yet, in practice, these same states have consistently proven reluctant to relinquish sufficient sovereignty and have applied the brakes on deeper integration in the field of external relations.

As the EEAS review emphasizes, “the Lisbon Treaty left [the EU’s] C[ommon] F[oreign] S[ecurity] Policy intergovernmental and therefore subject to unanimity.” That means action is subject to 28 national approvals.   Nor did the Commission and the member states provide the EEAS with an overabundant budget. Currently, its administrative budget and staff numbers are comparable to that of Belgium, far behind the bigger states such as France, Germany or the United Kingdom (see annexes 7 and 9). By its very nature – neither a supranational institution like the Commission nor is it intergovernmental in nature like the European Council[i] – the EU’s diplomatic service embodies the ambiguities and contradictions that have dogged the idea of a common European foreign policy.

The EU’s diplomatic corps, led by Ashton and now composed of 3,417 staff and 140 Delegations across the world, has emerged in a very difficult economic context, during a period when policy-makers have been more focused on solving economic and financial issues than on advancing the interests of a common European foreign policy.

The EEAS has received its fair share of criticism, especially in its early days, which often coalesced around Ashton and her leadership team. The Libya crisis in 2011, in particular, highlighted the many challenges facing the EU’s diplomatic service, when it comes to projecting a unified voice and having a meaningful impact on the world stage. Instead, Libya projected an image of a crowded diplomatic stage. High Representative Ashton, President of the Commission Jose Manuel Barroso and President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy all released separate communiques during the conflict. Member states quarreled over the right course, with Germany staying on the sidelines.

France and Britain took an activist posture and were reluctant to cede ground to Ashton. As a consequence, NATO oversaw the combat operations in Libya, and there was no serious discussion about launching a military Common Security and Defense Policy mission at the EU level. Even the EU’s attempt to launch a military-humanitarian mission, EUFOR Libya, failed to materialize. As The Economist points out, “while Britain and France engage Libyan forces, Ms Ashton engages "civil society” in Benghazi. The big states fly combat missions; the EU flies the flag.”

At the same time, as Stefan Lehne, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, points out, the Service has been able to overcome many of its teething problems and make important contributions. The EEAS leadership has built strong ties with its counterparts in key countries; and the EU Delegations outside of Europe have helped to provide more coherence to European diplomacy in third countries. Ashton has generally been praised for her leading and highly visible role in the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Her internet “tweet” announced the recent interim deal to the world and, as mentioned above, she signed the agreement on behalf of the P5+1 western negotiators.

Even on the thorny and divisive topic of the Syrian conflict, Ashton and the EEAS have managed to make a difference. Throughout the crisis, the High Representative has had to find a middle ground between the opposed views of Germany, France and the UK. Yet, during the Foreign Affairs Council informal meeting in Vilnius in early September 2013, Ashton did achieve some sort of consensus. As Pol Morillas, head of the Euro-Mediterranean Policy of the IEMed, points out, the member states in Vilnius coalesced around the position that “the EU asked for a strong response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria but encouraged more U[nited] N[ations] S[ecurity] Council discussion.”

However, it was the April 2013 Serbia-Kosovo accord that really marked a turning point for Ashton and that stands out as a major achievement for the EEAS. Given carte blanche by the EU’s member states, who believed that there was no chance for a deal, Ashton showed great perseverance and fine negotiating skills to bring the two former belligerents to the table, and to broker an agreement. By doing so, Ashton raised her own profile, placated many of her critics, and confirmed that the EU’s diplomatic service could provide significant added value for European foreign policy.

But, as Lehne also emphasizes, there remains room for improvement. EU external action and positions are still not firmly under the EEAS and more can also be done to strengthen cooperation between the EU’s diplomatic service and the member states. As one member state diplomat confided: “The EEAS is like a good car, with a good pilot, but which seems to be stuck in second gear.” Supporters and members of the EU’s diplomatic corps, however, are quick to point out that it is still very young, lacking in resources, and that it will require a far longer period of time before being appropriately judged.

This July, The EEAS completed a first major official assessment of its first few years in existence. This review, mandated by the European Council decision of July 2010 which set the rules for the functioning and establishment of the EU’s diplomatic service, offers a general overview of the EEAS and offers some policy recommendations to improve the performance of the still nascent institution.

This article is an attempt to complement the official review. Based on 40 off-the-record interviews with diplomats working for and with the EEAS, and spread across the world, this assessment will try to shed light on the process of building the EEAS, including constructing bureaucracy, developing an esprit de corps, and establishing ties with other EU institutions, and the diplomatic missions of the member states and third countries.

The Genesis of the EEAS:

The origins of the EEAS can be traced to the European Convention, the body established in 2001 by the European Council and tasked with preparing a draft constitution for the EU. During its debates, the members of the Convention quickly recognized, according to David O’Sullivan, the Chief Operating Officer of the EEAS, that the next driver of European integration – following peace and reconciliation after World War Two, and then enlargement – would likely be Europe’s place on the world stage.

The members believed that the EU could present a more effective and coherent foreign policy if it better integrated the various elements of its external action, and so they rallied behind a number of proposed innovations. These included first, establishing a new position of a EU foreign minister that merged the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Commissioner for External Relations; second, creating a European External Action Service, composed of a blend of staff from the Commission, the Council Secretariat and the member state diplomatic services; and third, turning the Commission Delegations across the world into Delegations of the EU under the EEAS.

Negotiations began in 2005 between the member states, the Commission and High Representative Javier Solana to prepare the implementation of the EEAS.   But they were soon stalled because French and Dutch voters in May and June 2005 rejected by referenda the proposed European Constitution.   After a period of reflection, and under the impetus of the German Presidency of the EU in early 2007, the member states attempted to revive the institutional process for an EU diplomatic service. A year of debates resulted in the Lisbon Treaty, signed on 13 December 2007. Crucially, many of the foreign policy reforms envisaged by the rejected Constitution, including the EEAS, were incorporated into the Lisbon Treaty. The position of EU Foreign Minister was renamed the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Policy and Security Affairs.

The tortuous process of the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty slowed the establishment of the EEAS. As David O’Sullivan points out, very little of the preparatory work required for the launch of an effective diplomatic corps had taken place by the time the Lisbon Treaty came into force on 1 December 2009. Catherine Ashton, chosen in 2009 to become the EU’s new High Representative, would reflect in 2011 that “on appointment I was given the [Lisbon] Treaty and a pencil– but that was it, so everything we had done we have had to create.”

The Lisbon Treaty provided limited guidelines about the shape and nature of the External Action Service:

“In fulfilling his mandate, the High Representative shall be assisted by a European External Action Service. This service shall work in cooperation with the diplomatic services of the Member States and shall comprise officials from relevant departments of the General Secretariat of the Council and of the Commission as well as staff seconded from national diplomatic services of the Member States. The organisation and functioning of the European External Action Service shall be established by a decision of the Council. The Council shall act on a proposal from the High Representative after consulting the European Parliament and after obtaining the consent of the Commission. ”

Article 13a-III of the Lisbon Treaty (article 27 of the Treaty on European Union).

Thus, Ashton   spent most of her first year working on a blueprint to establish the new European diplomatic corps and garnering support for this blueprint among the various stakeholders (member states, the Commission and the European Parliament), and navigating turf wars. It took until 26 July 2010 for the High Representative to obtain a decision from the European Council on the organization and functioning of the EEAS. The decision laid out certain key principles of the diplomatic service – including its purpose and mission, its status as an autonomous body, its budget and the organizational chart – and paved the way for its official launch on 1st December 2010. On 1st January 2011, the EEAS reached another milestone. It welcomed 1643 new employees through the transfer en masse of the entire staff of the Commission’s Directorate General [DG] Relex (External Relations) and part of DG Development, as well as the Council Secretariat staff working for DG External and Politico-Military Affairs.


Recruiting the Member State diplomats

The European diplomatic service took its first steps in 2011, with its organizational chart and its senior management team in place (see annexes). As the EEAS’ official review points out, the top of the organizational chart includes a Corporate Board made up of four members: the Executive Secretary General, the Chief Operating Officer and two Deputy Secretaries General. Below that level, the Service includes eight Managing Directorates organized along geographical or thematic lines, the EU Military staff Directorate, and the other departments of the Common Security and Defense Policy.   Staffing took time and the service found itself in the position, as Ashton often described, of “trying to fly a plane while still bolting the wings on.”

The EU’s diplomatic corps has more than doubled in size since 2011, for a total staff of 3,417 (1457 in Brussels, 1960 in EU Delegations –as of September 2013). An important part of that expansion involved bringing in diplomats from the member states, recruited as temporary agents for a maximum period of eight years, and slated to represent one third of the total administrator [AD] posts within the service.[ii] Besides fulfilling the mandate of the Lisbon Treaty, the EEAS welcomed the influx of the national diplomats as a source of much needed expertise and to ensure ‘buy in’ from the member states. The EU’s diplomatic service also hoped to gather the support of the member states and to attract the ‘best and the brightest’ from the various European foreign ministries.

In numerous interviews, members of the EU’s new diplomatic corps offered a wide and varied spectrum of motivations, ranging from the mundane to the idealistic, for making the change. The prospect of higher wages attracted some.   Others switched to the EEAS for more opportunistic and professional goals: it allowed some diplomats to escape a difficult economic and political context in their home countries, with many national foreign ministries cutting jobs; it provided additional career options, like the chance to be posted in a location where the home country does not have diplomatic representation, or the possibility to spend a second tour in a country of interest.   Finally, some diplomats also emphasized that they viewed the EEAS as an exciting opportunity for idealistic reasons and because they relished the chance of being pioneers within a new organization. As one interviewee said: “I am a pro-European and a federalist, so I wanted to see for myself how the EEAS works.”

All the foreign ministries on member states have advertised the job vacancies in the new EU diplomatic service, and many have offered some aid to help candidates prepare their applications. For small states, in particular, the EEAS has created the dilemma of the need to be well represented in the new service and concern about losing valuable diplomatic expertise at home. Larger EU countries, on the other hand, have been able to take a more pro-active attitude toward sending staff to the EEAS. France, for instance, has pursued a comprehensive approach that seeks to “mobilise candidates from as many sources as possible; select the best candidates; and ‘accompany’ them individually”.[iii] Germany’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has also tried to offer a thorough preparation for any candidates interested in the EEAS, which has centered on seminars including mock interviews and presentations, as well as exchanges with German officials already working in the EU’s diplomatic service.

Some national foreign ministries have adapted their strategies since 2011, and have taken a closer look at their staff applications to the EEAS. Thus, Belgium revised its laissez-faire approach after one year. While applications remained on a voluntary basis, the foreign ministry moved to highlight EEAS job vacancies that constituted a priority for Belgium.   Spain also took on a more hands on approach in response to its perception that it was under-represented in the EEAS. A dedicated unit within the foreign ministry now compiles a list of potential candidates who might be interested in the EU’s diplomatic service and encourages and supports application.

The interviews for this article highlighted a fair share of frustrations for the member state diplomats.   Operating initially with a very small human resources staff transferred from DG Relex, the EEAS was at first somewhat overwhelmed by the volume of candidacies and vacancies.   Even though the EEAS led outreach efforts to share information with the national foreign ministries about the interviews and how to apply, this still meant that many national diplomats ended up gaining experience the hard way, through rejections and trial and error.

Furthermore, member state diplomats had to adapt to a different organizational culture when applying to the EEAS. Whereas national ministries favored generalists, the EEAS favored specialists. Cultural obstacles also surfaced when it came to the actual preparation of applications. Some of the interviewees spoke of their realization that the EEAS hiring authorities favored the Anglo-Saxon model for resumes, putting them at a disadvantage.

Since its official launch in late 2010, the EEAS has made great strides when it comes to hiring member state diplomats and fulfilling the target of one third for AD posts. As the official review points out, the temporary agents from the national diplomatic services now represent 32.9% of the total AD staff, but which hides some important variations according to locations. Thus, the temporary agents only represent 23.8% of the AD staff in Headquarters in Brussels, while their number shoots up to 46.2% within Delegations (including 44% as Heads of Delegation).


Esprit de Corps: creating a cohesive Service

Speaking in November 2012, about the establishment of the EEAS, the Chief Operating Officer David O’Sullivan quipped about the apprehensions of the various categories of staff as they transferred to the new EU diplomatic corps: “The Commission colleagues felt they had been cast out of the warmth of the Commission womb and into the outer darkness of inter-governmentalism; the Council Secretariat colleagues felt their worst nightmare had come true, and they had woken up working for the Commission; and the member state diplomats found that they had landed on planet Europe, where neither the atmosphere nor the language resembled anything they recognized from a national diplomatic service.”

These anxieties provided challenges in developing an esprit de corps. It has been necessary to blend a fairly heterogeneous group of people, including five categories of staff with very different cultures and experiences: the former Commission and Council Secretariat employees, the national diplomats working as temporary agents, the seconded national experts and the local agents.[iv]

Employees performing the same job are not always compensated at the same level – their wages being determined by their categories.   The temporary agents have resented the fact that they are only eligible for promotion every four years, as opposed to the yearly promotion regime of their colleagues who worked in the Commission and the Council Secretariat

Nonetheless, the prevailing impression from the interviews is that the blending of the various staff, and the creation of a common culture, has proven easier in practice than expected. Some emphasized how the long hours working together and the criticism against the EEAS have helped strengthen cohesion. Others noted they have appreciated learning from the very different experiences of their colleagues, and that the turf battles that can exist in Brussels have not carried over to the Delegations.


Bureaucratic rules and procedures have sometimes hindered the effectiveness of the EU’s diplomatic service. Richard Whitman emphasized in his testimony to the United Kingdom’s House of Lords that the EEAS inherited the Commission’s network of Delegations. Had it been able to build from scratch, it probably would have picked different locations for a number of these posts. Although the EEAS has been able to make some changes – such as opening Delegations in South Sudan, Libya and Myanmar, and closing the one in Vanuatu – the amending process, as the official review points out, requires the unanimous approval of the Council and the Commission.

Moreover, interviewees for this article only gave a lukewarm grade to the information flow within the EEAS’ diplomatic network. They painted a picture of the Headquarters as not being up to par as a ‘diplomatic capital.’   Communication is also affected by a number of technical issues, in particular for confidential messages. The secure system of communications does not always work well within the EEAS, nor is it helped within the EU by the fact that the EEAS, the Council and the Commission use different systems.

The EEAS’ organizational chart, as Oxford University Fellow Hylke Dijkstra suggests, would benefit from being flatter, shortening the lines between the desk officers and the High Representative. The Service suffers as well, according to a report from the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, from being top-heavy as an organization, with too many managers. Its hierarchy and chains of command also lack clarity in some instances.

Officers working for EU Delegations generally expressed frustration with the constraining bureaucratic rules and procedures.   Some of these limitations, of course, are unavoidable when operating with a multinational staff. In cases where most of the reporting and day-to-day work within a Delegation is done in English, that creates extra difficulties for the staff that are not native speakers. But mostly, the interviewees chafed at what they regarded as the excessive amount of red tape – such as the numerous authorizations needed when traveling or the many forms required for reimbursements.

The administrative burden is particularly demanding for the Heads of Delegation. The Heads of Delegation, as explained by the House of Lords report, are in charge of the ‘dual financial circuits’ that exist within Delegations: the administrative expenses for which they report to the High Representative, and external assistance and aid for which they must account to the Commission.


Relations with the European Parliament and the Commission

Even High Commissioner Ashton’s sharpest critics would concede the demanding nature of this position, which aggregates the past responsibilities of the former High Representative, the Commissioner for External Relations, and the foreign minister of the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union under one hat.

Indeed, Ashton’s busy schedule has become an issue with the European Parliament. The Parliament, invigorated by new powers granted by the Lisbon Treaty, used its budgetary authority to gain a say over the establishment of the EU’s diplomatic service; and in particular, it ensured some oversight powers over the EEAS and emphasized the importance of accountability.[v] Up to now, the ad hoc measures used to represent Ashton in front of the Parliament, be it relying on relevant Commissioners, a senior member of the EEAS or a minister from the rotating presidency country, are not seen as ideal by all parties. This has prompted Ashton to suggest the creation of a permanent deputy to help shoulder the work of the High Representative.

Overall, however, relations between the Parliament and the EU’s diplomatic corps mostly appear positive at this stage. True, the Parliament has not hesitated at times to openly criticize the EEAS, whether it is the Foreign Affairs Committee pointing out the top-heavy bureaucracy and the slow reactions of the diplomatic service, or the Committee on Budgetary Control lamenting the high wages and the high rates of absenteeism among the staff. But as the CEPS report suggests, the Members of the European Parliament [MEPs] remain satisfied with the performance of the EEAS, viewing the latter as an important potential partner with which to increase the Parliament’s role in external action.[vi] Additionally, the EU’s diplomatic service has taken steps to ensure close contacts with the Parliament, making sure to build extensive relationships with MEPs at the director and desk officer levels.[vii]

Relations between the EEAS and the Commission, however, have proven to be far more complicated. Difficulties surfaced during the establishment phase of the EU’s diplomatic corps and the battle over competences, with the Commission maintaining a strong role in external relations – including the portfolios of trade, development, enlargement and humanitarian aid.[viii]

As Graham Avery points out, the Commission and the EEAS do consult and cooperate, but there is still a tendency to view ‘each other as rivals rather than colleagues.’ He further notes that the Commission’s Services boast a long and proud history, which made them wary of the arrival of the EEAS on the scene. These same Services regarded the establishment of the EEAS as an autonomous body as a challenge, and one which could lead to mission creep by member states into the Commission’s established prerogatives. According to Charles Grant, the Commission has not hesitated to use its control of the purse strings to rein in the EU’s diplomatic service.

Over time, however, a number of factors have combined to tamp down the competition between the Commission and the EEAS. The large number of former DG Relex officials now working in the EEAS have provided some degree of continuity and helped to smooth relations between the institutions.[ix] The January 2012 working agreement between the Commission and the EU’s diplomatic corps clarified certain arrangements insofar as the management of work and the external assistance programs within Delegations.

Furthermore, the EEAS does cooperate closely with the Commission in a number of domains. Those include providing a supporting role for the Commission in some cases, developing joint communications such as the ongoing effort on a comprehensive approach to crisis management, or briefing the Commission President Barroso for international summits. Ashton’s cabinet is also very involved in the preparatory phase of the Commission meetings. Finally, Barroso and Ashton have also agreed to organize more regular meetings of the External Relations Group of Commissioners (which include the President, as well the Commissioners for Trade, Enlargement, Development policy, Humanitarian Assistance and Economic and Monetary Affairs), which would be chaired by the High Representative.


Relations with Member States

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the EEAS has been its relationship with EU Member states. Opinions vary widely, and reflect noticeable differences between the bigger and smaller states. Member states generally expressed their support for the EEAS, but also indicated that it has room for improvement, especially in regard to fostering greater harmonization for the EU’s foreign policy.

Smaller states, in particular, recognized that the EEAS could, in theory, help them have a greater say in the EU’s policies toward third countries, but they also noted feeling somewhat excluded from the headquarters of the EU’s diplomatic corps. The larger states often underlined the enduring importance of their bilateral relations, thereby seeming to minimize the impact of the EEAS on their own diplomatic action.

Amongst its many innovations, the Lisbon Treaty led to the transfer of many of the responsibilities of the rotating presidency of the EU to the EEAS. As the CEPS report notes, this included in Brussels splitting the General Affairs and External Relations Council into two new bodies: “[the] Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) and [the] General Affairs Council (GAC). The rotating Council Presidency continues to chair the General Affairs Council. The new Foreign Affairs Council, dealing with foreign policy, development and defence, is chaired by the H[igh] R[epresentative]/V[ice] P[resident]”.[x] As a consequence, EEAS representatives also chair many of the working groups that help prepare the Foreign Affairs Council meetings, including the key Political and Security Committee – the rest still being chaired by the rotating presidency.[xi]

Outside of Europe, the EU Delegations have also taken up many of the functions previously under the remit of the rotating presidency. In conversations with the author, several EEAS employees mentioned their initial apprehensions about taking over these new responsibilities. In particular, they were concerned about the extra workload and wondered if the member state embassies would show the same deference and loyalty to the Delegation, which they had shown in the past to the member state holding the rotating presidency.

In many respects, these concerns have proven unfounded. The EU Delegations have managed to smoothly adjust to their new role, earning some praise from the member states, especially the smaller ones. For the latter, holding the rotating presidency was a source of pride but also a heavy burden on countries with fewer resources; as one diplomat confided, the “EU Delegations taking over the coordination role between member states was manna from heaven”. Indeed, the EU’s diplomatic service has acted as a resource multiplier, sending smaller states reports on topics that they cannot cover for lack of resources. But at the same time, the member states have been more critical of the EEAS when it comes to setting the agenda. They argue that the EU’s diplomatic corps has lacked the drive of the old system of the rotating presidency, or the ability to communicate clear policy priorities for a six month period.[xii]

The bigger member states, though, were less likely to view the information-sharing with the EU delegations as particularly valuable. Or as cited in The Economist, “For us the EEAS is a megaphone,” says one small-country diplomat, “For the big states it is a limitation.”

Yet, even the smaller states’ embassies conceded that their counterparts from the EU Delegation, along with the bigger member states, have not been sufficiently forthright with information. On a specific dossier like the ongoing negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program, for example, they lamented the fact that they seemed to receive more updates from their American colleagues than from the EEAS. At a more general level, as pointed out by the CEPS report: “the EU delegations are also sometimes accused of ‘cleaning’ the information before sending it to the member states. In order to be able to gather information and to act independently from the member states, EU delegations sometimes have to conceal their sources and the information they received. Some contacts might refuse to disclose information, knowing that it will be in the hands of all member states in a short period of time, including the contacts’ identity.”[xiii]


On the flip side, the staff in the EU Delegations often depicted information-sharing as mostly a one way street, with the flow coming from the member state embassies still leaving much to be desired. Granted, the EEAS employees acknowledged that the limited exchanges from the member states were not simply the result of a lack of will. Certain EU Delegations operated according to a strict principle of reciprocity – only exchanging documents with member states when they received some in return – which did not create incentives for greater information-sharing.

A number of practical and technical difficulties have also contributed to limiting the volume of exchanges: the fact that member states cannot share their reports based on their intelligence sources with their EU counterparts; the absence in some situations of a reliable system to send confidential information between EU Delegations and member state embassies; and the language barriers that have dissuaded countries from passing on information to the EU Delegations.

But some EU diplomats also emphasized that these explanations were only partly accurate. Thus, the ongoing development of secure communication methods between the embassies and the EU Delegation has not led to a dramatic increase in information-sharing. While not denying that linguistic obstacles can be significant, the EEAS staff also thought they were being used as an excuse by some member states to not share more information. Ultimately, the member states have not fully developed the habit, nor sufficient trust, of consistently exchanging reports and analyses with the EU’s diplomatic service.

The necessity of bridging the trust gap, explains to a certain extent the heavy emphasis that EU Delegations have placed on improving coordination with their member state counterparts and ensuring that the EU appears united across the world. The EEAS has thus adopted a conscious strategy of trying to win over the member states. As one temporary agent told me, the EU’s diplomatic service will be successful if it can be seen as helpful to the member states, providing value to both smaller states and larger states; and that has also meant the EEAS taking a more supportive approach and being prepared to take on the difficult tasks that member states might be loath to do.

The EU’s diplomatic corps’ clear and multifaceted commitment to promoting systematic rather than ad hoc coordination has generally won plaudits from the member states. The efforts of the EEAS have included: scheduling regular meetings between member state representatives and their counterparts in the EU Delegations at the higher levels from Heads of Delegations to that of the Deputy Chiefs of Mission; convening regular sectoral meetings, bringing together the diplomats working on different areas such as culture, political and home affairs; organizing ad hoc events on key threats such as cyber security; working to develop a joint public diplomacy strategy. These initiatives at internal coordination have been particularly significant for the EU Delegations in multilateral organizations such as the United Nations, where the EU is not a member with voting rights.

Moreover, the EEAS has also sought to harmonize approaches between member states and to foster solidarity on current events. Local EU Delegations tend to circulate weekly political and economic reports to the member state embassies, and to provide briefings for incoming European ministers. They also often organize larger meetings with local officials. Thus, for example, the EU Delegation in Washington has worked hard to invite senior American officials to give presentations to member state representatives; efforts that are particularly appreciated by the smaller countries that sometimes struggle to get access to these same officials. These initiatives have certainly paid off to a certain extent by encouraging member states to defend and support European positions in regard to some of the key contemporary challenges.

Yet, while the EEAS’ coordination efforts have generally been successful, they still face challenges. First, the EU’s diplomatic service is somewhat hindered by the necessity of not appearing to discriminate between member states. That means that it cannot be seen to take initiatives to create informal ad hoc and limited groups, which only involve countries interested in a specific topic – or the equivalent of ‘policy coalitions of the willing’.

Second, as the official review points out: “in more than 70 places where the EU has a Delegation there are fewer than 10 Member States represented and 50 countries where there are fewer than 5 Member States.” That has not translated, however, into EU Delegations automatically representing member states when they are not present on the ground. Granted, there are informal agreements and arrangements, such as the local EU Delegation forwarding its reports to countries with no official presence; but, for the most part, the member states still rely on other friendly countries to represent them, and to deal with evacuation or consular needs.

Third, the EEAS has struggled with coordination when it comes to the more sensitive and operational issues, or areas where the bigger member states have important interests at play. The United Kingdom [UK], in particular, has been wary of EU infringement on the sovereignty and prerogatives of member states, as shown by the 2011 dispute over statements at the United Nations. Indeed, the UK’s mission to the UN blocked a substantial number of European statements to UN committees because it insisted that the statements should be made ‘on behalf of the EU and the member states’, as opposed to ‘on behalf of the EU’ alone.


Relations with non-EU States

The establishment of the EU’s diplomatic corps has affected relations with third parties. Interviews revealed a wide belief that the establishment of the EEAS had made it easier for the EU to work with local interlocutors. By permanently taking over many of the responsibilities of the rotating presidency, through the consistency and continuity in handling dossiers, it is easier for EU diplomats to build stronger relations with their counterparts.

Furthermore, EU Delegations across the world have generally managed to improve their visibility and to become important fixtures on the local diplomatic scenes. In the case of the US for example, senior officials in the State Department closely and intensely communicate at all levels through emails, phone calls and meetings with their EEAS colleagues.

Additionally, the presence of the EEAS has also led to certain shifts in how non-EU states pursue their policies. On one practical level, the EEAS has facilitated and streamlined the diplomacy of these countries, making it easier for them to engage with all EU member states and to pass on information and messages. On another level, the EEAS has also complicated the task of third countries, forcing them to take more diverse approaches. The larger strategic partners, such as Turkey, the United States or Brazil, realize that certain topics are better dealt with at a European level, whereas bilateral channels with the larger EU member states are more advantageous for other matters. Finally, in certain circumstances, EU Delegations can be a tempting target for some third countries to adopt divide and rule tactics, pitting the member states against the EEAS. This kind of strategy makes it all the more important for the EU’s diplomatic service to maintain close coordination with the member states.


Looking Ahead: The purpose and value added of the EEAS

As the EEAS prepares to celebrate its third birthday, it can point to a number of important achievements. The EU’s diplomatic service has slowly but surely reached its cruising speed, and has managed to establish itself as a presence on the diplomatic stage. It has already made a number of positive contributions to the EU’s foreign policy, such as the recent Serbia-Kosovo accord and the important role Ashton is playing in regard to Syria and the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

Ashton’s official review proposed a number of recommendations affecting all aspects of its operations: having the EEAS chair the working groups still remaining under the rotating presidency; its functioning, convening more meetings of the Relex group of commissioners, striving to ensure geographical and gender balance.   More ambitious measures include overhauling the procedures for the Common Security and Defense Policy. Some of the interviewees for this article also suggested giving consular responsibilities to the EEAS, which could also strengthen its connections with ordinary citizens, and using it to more actively promote European business and trade interests.

Ultimately, The EEAS will only be as effective as its stakeholders want it to be. The resources allocated to the EU’s diplomatic service have to match the ambitions, and right now, as Edward Burke, an expert at the FRIDE think tank, pointed out: “It has the same number of diplomats as Denmark but it is obviously being asked to do far more than Denmark is in the world.” Recovery from the 2008 economic and financial crisis has certainly encouraged consideration of greater pooling and sharing on the diplomatic front. Many of the member states are trying to cut costs by reducing their staff, closing down some diplomatic representations, and pushing forward plans for co-location – such as Spain sharing the building of the EU Delegation in Yemen. But it is not clear whether or not these same member states would be willing to re-invest some of these savings into the EEAS, nor is it clear to what extent they would be ready to reduce duplication. As one member state diplomat posted in Washington mentioned to me: “do we really need 28 political officers writing similar reports on American domestic affairs?”

Seriously addressing duplication of tasks is unlikely to happen anytime soon. It would require a major change in the way the member states regard their national diplomatic prerogatives and what real appetite they have for a federated Europe. In the meantime, the EEAS will continue to have a meaningful impact. Through the growing bona fides of its’ leadership, its’ coordination work, through the process and the experience of member state diplomats working at the European level, the EU’s diplomatic corps has an opportunity to foster and strengthen the ‘Europeanization’ of foreign policy. It will take time, but creating a common diplomatic culture could eventually prove a game changer in not only fostering closer European integration, but in cementing the EU’s sizeable footprint on the global map.



EEAS by the Numbers:

  • A staff of 3,417 (as of September 2013), with 1457 in Brussels and 1960 in the various EU Delegations. In third countries, the EEAS has a staff of 784 with diplomatic status.
  • 140 EU Delegations across the world, with 8 of those attached to International Organizations.
  • Member State diplomats from the national diplomatic services represent 32,9% of the total AD staff (23,8% in Brussels and 46,2% in delegations).
  • 2/3 of the senior management positions in Brussels are occupied by member-state diplomats. That number drops to 29% for management posts as a whole in Brussels. Within Delegations, 40.4% of management posts are fulfilled by member-state diplomats. The latter also represent 44% of the Heads of Delegation posts.
  • There are 28 women Heads of Delegations and 5 deputies, numbers that have doubled since the arrival of Catherine Ashton. In Brussels, there are 20 women in management posts, including four in senior management posts.
  • The 12 member states who joined the EU since 2004 now represent 17.2% of official posts, compared with their share of EU population in the order of 20%. The figure is slightly higher for AD posts at 18%. With the current exception of Cyprus, Luxembourg and Slovakia, there is at least one Head of Delegation post occupied by a national of each Member State.
  • The EEAS Budget for 2012 was 489 M€ (split between 190 M€ for HQ and 299 M€ for 141 EU Delegations). The EEAS budget for 2013 amounts to 509 M€ (196 M€ for HQ and 313 M€ for delegations).

Source: EEAS Public Document


Annex 1: Transfer en masse to EEAS, January 2011





Annex 2: EEAS Corporate Board Membership





Annex 3: EEAS Managing Directors





Annex 4: EEAS Organizational Chart (see for more details)


Source: EEAS website



Annex 5: EEAS Staff in Headquarters and EU Delegations in May 2013


Source: EEAS document


Annex 6: EEAS Administrator [AD] Officials and Member State [MS] Diplomats (September 2013)


Source: EEAS Public Document



Annex 7: Comparing foreign ministry budgets across the EU (budget figures date from 2011 or 2012, depending on the case)


Source: “The European External Action Service and National Diplomacies”, European Policy Centre Issue number 73, edited by Rosa Balfour and Kristi Raik, March 2013, p.167, accessible at



Annex 8: Comparing diplomatic networks across the EU


Source: “The European External Action Service and National Diplomacies”, European Policy Centre Issue number 73, edited by Rosa Balfour and Kristi Raik, March 2013, p.167, accessible at

Note: the number does not include cultural institutes abroad for Poland and Italy. As for the EEAS, all of its missions are outside the EU.


Annex 9: Comparing diplomatic staff size across the EU


Source: “The European External Action Service and National Diplomacies”, European Policy Centre Issue number 73, edited by Rosa Balfour and Kristi Raik, March 2013, p.167, accessible at

[i] Niklas Helwig, Paul Ivan, Hrant Kostanyan, “The New EU Foreign Policy Architecture: Reviewing the first two years of the EEAS”, Centre for European Policy Studies Report, p.6, PDF accessible at

[ii] There are two categories of officials within the EU Civil Service, the administrators (AD) and the assistants (AST). Administrators work on policies, implementing the EU law and analysis, while the assistants generally play a supporting role. This definition comes from Ryszarda Formuszewicz and Jakub Kumoch, “The Practice of Appointing the Heads of EU Delegations in the Wake of the Council Decision on European External Action Service”, Report of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, August 2010, p.7n5. The PDF can be accessed at

[iii] European Policy Institutes Network, “Reviewing Member States’ Commitment to the European External Action Service”, Working Paper number 34, November 2012, p.4. PDF accessible at

[iv] The local agents cannot work in the EU and are based solely in the Delegations. While they can be hired for indefinite contracts, they are not permanent EU officials. The seconded national experts (SNEs) are generally drawn from the public administrations of the member states or from international organizations. Their salaries are still being paid by their home countries, and their secondments can range from a minimum of six months to a maximum period of four years. Most of the SNEs are based in Brussels at the EEAS headquarters. See Decision of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of 23 March 2011 establishing the rules applicable to National Experts Seconded to the European External Action Service, .

[v] Ibid, pp.50-51.

[vi] Ibid, p.51.

[vii] Ibid, p.56.

[viii] Ibid, pp.30-31.

[ix] Ibid, p.32.

[x] Ibid, p.11.

[xi] Idem.

[xii] Ibid, pp.12-13.

[xiii] Ibid, p.66.