All is not well in the EU’s diplomatic service.
On paper it is there to provide expert analysis to foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. On-the-ground presence and knowledge should beef up EU foreign and external policy aims. This is supposed to give bottom-up coherency to EU foreign policy, even if coherency at the very top is missing.
But, by several accounts, the service is already suffering from a lack of morale, damaging infighting and a hazy chain of command.
This is partly due to how it is set up. It contains officials from the European Commission and the council general secretariat and diplomats from member states.
Taking experts from one bureaucracy and simply lumping them together with those from another in the name of a fuzzy greater good was always going to be difficult. Habits are ingrained. Loyalties are divided. And if there is no one specifically keeping an eye on such things – and there isn’t – resentments grow.
It doesn’t help that the service is not yet in a single headquarters. Its people are located in several different buildings. A move is expected only by the end of the year.
But aside from the logistics there is a more fundamental problem of disconnect between a top heavy management and the expert desk officers further down the chain.
While the top layer is busy fighting with one other – the two deputy secretary generals Helga Schmid and Maciej Popowski reportedly do not get on – the rest is looking for some political guidance and some sense of backup.
“We are working with them [Secretary Generals] on a daily basis. But it is not really clear what they do. So when there is a crisis, everyone has something to say, everybody has something to decide,” says one official from an EU delegation.
Poor human resources management is compounding the bad feeling. Headed up at director level by Patrick Child, the human resources department is too small and staffed by commission officials. The level of pettiness is such that diplomatic issues, like getting phones connected, are deprioritised, according to one contact.
Another official has problems getting paid. They described dealing with the HR department as a case of continually getting hold of someone only to be told that they are not the ones responsible. “It’s Kafkaesque,” says the official.
The organigramme, relatively straightforward on paper, is throwing up questions in practice. Agostino Miozzo, managing director in charge of crisis response, but without his own department, is a case in point. It is unclear what added value his post brings, and is also seen as being in direct competition with geographical directors. There are apparent duplications elsewhere too. The managing director of the Middle East North Africa section has the same portfolio as the director in the section.
The awkward split concerning development policy – the result of a power tussle between the commission and Ashton when the service blueprint was being drawn up – is perceived as not working either.
The EuropeAid Development and Cooperation DG looks after the development policy and establishes thematic programmes. The service, on the other hand, is supposed to allocate money and look at regional strategies. The divide has led to fierce territoriality, say insiders.
According to one : “They are creating new political desks in DEVCO. I don’t think they will ever be officially called that, but there are people doing just briefings for the commissioner. It should be the EAS doing that. The same is true of ECHO [the humanitarian aid and civil protection unit]. They have their own reports. ECHO informs ECHO.”
The general problem is not unknown. Ashton’s people are aware of it. A source summed it up as so :
“We’ve ripped a bit off the commission. We’ve ripped a bit off the council. And we’ve thrown in some member state people. Not everybody is as happy as everyone else to be there. Because that is not what they planned with their lives.”
But knowing about it and doing something about it are two different things. The service is in its very early days yet. These kinds of developments can still headed off before they get too ingrained with some clever management and political leadership. Can Ashton, constantly under fire herself at the political level, fix it ?
“The longer is goes on, the more difficult it will be to change,” says the EAS contact.