More Action, Better Service How to Strengthen the European External Action Service

Le Service européen d’action extérieure, qui devrait être le bras diplomatique de l’Union européenne, est une des principales innovations du traité de Lisbonne, estime Stefan Lehne, dans une analyse publiée par Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mais son action est marquée par des faiblesses qui tiennent autant à l’absence d’engagement des Etats que du manque d’ambition de l’Union elle-même en matière de politique extérieure.

The foreign policy provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon represent the most

ambitious reform effort in European foreign policy, ever. They were originally

drafted at a time of confidence and optimism regarding the future of the

European Union (EU), during the Convention on the Future of Europe,

which put forward a draft constitution in 2003. But that constitution was

rejected, so these foreign policy reforms are only now being implemented in

a radically different political environment. The deep financial and economic

crisis, the uncertainty regarding the future of the euro, and indeed of European

integration, weigh heavily on the foreign policy of the EU. Under these

difficult circumstances, there is a real risk that the implementation of the treaty

provisions will fall well short of the full potential of the Lisbon reforms. At

the present time the new foreign policy arrangements suffer from a number of

design flaws, from an insufficient resource base, and from a lack of genuine buyin,

both from the member states and from the European Commission. However,

these flaws can be overcome if they are properly recognized and if corrective

actions are taken.

Enhance the Buy-in of the Member States

Nothing is more important for the success of the European External Action

Service (EEAS) than a strong sense of ownership on the part of the EU

member states. Different for instance from the Commission’s role in commercial

policy, the EEAS does not operate on the basis of exclusive competencies. The

member states remain in the driver’s seat. The extent to which they give the new

service a role and even follow its leadership will depend wholly on the degree of

trust it enjoys.

representative must take a stronger lead in setting priorities, in

giving strategic direction, in streamlining the political dialogue with

international partners, and in building a record of concrete policy

successes through well-targeted personal engagement.

Improve institutional capacity : Today, there are probably fewer officials

working on European foreign policy than before the Lisbon Treaty.

The EEAS needs more manpower, better integration of its diverse

components, and improved recruitment and training practices. The chain

of command and the procedures should be reviewed to allow the EEAS

to respond more rapidly to developments.

The foreign policy provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon represent the most

ambitious reform effort in European foreign policy—ever. By taking action in

these areas, the EU can begin to overcome some of the flaws in the system and

make the vision of Lisbon a reality.

In the previous system, the country holding the rotating EU presidency led

the EU’s foreign policy efforts for a period of six months. This system had

great disadvantages. Priorities could change suddenly, as national interests

influenced the agenda. The rotation hindered the buildup of know-how and the

development of personal relations with the leaders of partner countries. It also

made effective crisis management very difficult.

However, the old system had a positive side. As the country holding the

presidency was in charge of all aspects of EU work, it offered a more coherent

chain of command than the complex post-Lisbon arrangements.1 Presidencies

also brought to the table a lot of enthusiasm and fresh energy and generally

worked with the member states collegially. As all ministers and diplomats knew

it would eventually be their turn, they felt a certain basic solidarity with the

presidency and generally supported it.

The EEAS has the great virtue of continuity, which over time should also ensure

greater professionalism and effectiveness. However, the new setup makes it more

difficult to ensure the vital buy-in of the member states. Sometimes member

states’ diplomats regard the new service not as their own instrument but as

another Brussels bureaucracy and even as a potential rival. There is a sense that

an EEAS that becomes prominent and successful would eventually become a

threat to the foreign ministries of the member states.

The high representative and the member states should address this problem

head-on by promoting the systematic involvement of the member states’

diplomacies in the work of the EEAS. They would thus make clear that

implementing the Lisbon reforms is not a zero-sum game but a win-win

proposition, from which both the new entity and the member states would

draw considerable benefits. If member states were given more responsibility and

shared more of the burden for the EU’s foreign policy activities, they would

develop a sense of ownership of the EEAS. They would also gain additional

information and influence in EU decisions. The EEAS for its part would

greatly benefit from “leveraging” its limited manpower (there are currently

3,200 employees, including contract agents and local staff) with the far greater

diplomatic resources of the member states (altogether, more than 50,000 people).

Tasking the Foreign Ministers

The drafters of the Lisbon Treaty gave the high representative three full-time

jobs (high representative, vice president of the European Commission, and

president of the Foreign Affairs Council) without providing for political-level

deputies. The “multi-hatted” high representative is obviously unable to attend

all the meetings in which a high-level EU presence is required. Whenever she

goes to one international venue, she misses out on a number of others, and is

criticized for her absence.

The issue of the political-level deputies should be eventually revisited.2 In the

meantime, Catherine Ashton should rely even more than she already does

on the support of EU foreign ministers. So far she has at times delegated

attendance at international meetings to a minister of a member state, usually the

foreign minister of the rotating presidency. This concept could be used more

systematically and not just at multilateral meetings but also for visits to partner

countries or crisis regions. This “tasking” of her colleagues on the Foreign

Affairs Council could reduce their tendency to go off on such missions on their

own with insufficient prior coordination. In order to ensure that the national

interests of the particular minister do not interfere with the EU agenda, she

could in special situations send more than one minister, include EEAS officials

in the delegation, and clear the key messages in advance of the visit.

Teamwork Between EU Delegations and Embassies

Member states’ diplomatic services could also be more directly involved in the

actual conduct of EU foreign policy to enhance buy-in. In some multilateral fora

(such as the United Nations and Organization for Security and Cooperation in

Europe) there is already a fairly developed division of labor among EU partners.

Individual member states take the lead in negotiating particular issues, all, of

course, within the framework of continuing consultations among the 27. There

is no reason why this model cannot be applied between EU delegations and

member states’ embassies in third countries as well, where the workload is heavy

and the capacity of the EU delegation limited.

The regular consultations among the EU heads of mission, which are now

chaired by the head of the EU delegation, would be the appropriate forum to

manage such arrangements. Ideally, EU delegations and the missions of member

states should over time develop into a cohesive EU team, possibly also sharing

infrastructure and other resources.

Sharing of Information

A more systematic exchange of information would be mutually beneficial to

EU institutions as well as to member states. As EU delegations gain importance

and access as interlocutors of the host country governments, they should be

prepared to share their insights with the diplomatic missions of member states.

Conversely, national diplomatic and intelligence reporting can be a valuable

resource for the EEAS. At present, EU embassies report about the same local

developments separately to their respective capitals. This is not a good use of


scarce resources. Systematic “pooling and sharing” of reporting and analysis

would clearly be in everyone’s interest.

Some sharing of information between EU delegations and the embassies of

member states takes place already but so far in a relatively unsystematic and

limited manner. There are a few barriers to the free flow of information, such

as some genuine concerns about confidentiality. A sense of rivalry and lack of

trust can also play an inhibiting role. There is clearly a need for solid procedures,

secure communications, and concrete commitments to ensure reciprocity. These

issues should be addressed in a forthright way as part of a substantive dialogue

between the EEAS and member states.

This information from EU delegations should also reach member states not

represented in the country concerned. Moreover, the EU delegations should

become regular service providers for such countries. This could include

providing briefings and support for visiting delegations. All of this would

contribute to an increased sense of ownership of policy among member states.

Cooperation in Crisis Management

Political crisis management is another area where much more burden sharing

between the EEAS and member states could take place. When the EU confronts

a serious foreign policy challenge, such as the uprisings in Arab states in spring

2011, there should be a better way to mobilize rapidly the regional influence and

expertise of member states. The high representative should be able to call on EU

political leaders to use their personal contacts with actors in the crisis. National

experts could be recruited into the EEAS for short-term assignments, deployed

in Brussels and in EU delegations. The concept of “crisis management task

forces” could offer an appropriate framework for creating such ad hoc “surge

capacity” of European diplomacy. Logistic and financial resources should be

made available to support such mobilization efforts.

EU Delegations and Consular Protection

There is a strong case for using the EEAS to support the consular protection

of EU citizens. In the age of globalization, Europeans travel all over the world,

including to the most dangerous places. Most EU countries have rather small

consular networks and find it increasingly difficult to ensure consular support

for their citizens. Using the extensive network of EU delegations in a supporting

role (the primary responsibility would stay with member states) would constitute

a genuine added value of the EEAS. Such a role would also be highly visible and

help secure public support for and buy-in to the EEAS.


There has not been much success on this front in the past. Due to the resistance

of a few member states, the issue did not find a satisfactory solution in the

negotiations on establishing the EEAS. According to Article 5(10) of the

European Council Decision that created the EEAS, delegations can on request

provide such consular protection on a “resource-neutral basis.” As it is hard to

envisage a meaningful service that costs nothing, little can be expected from this

provision. It is therefore to be hoped that the EEAS review in 2013 will revisit

this issue, and that the common sense of doing more together in this area will

eventually prevail.

Strengthening the Share of Member States Diplomats

Finally, according to the Council’s decision, member states’ diplomats should

make up one-third of the staff of the EEAS by 2013. This is, of course, yet

another important way to ensure a sense of ownership of the 27. Some progress

has been achieved. Particularly in the senior management and among the heads

of delegations member states are already well represented. Nonetheless, as only

a few additional posts will be created, it will take a major effort by the high

representative to reach this target within the agreed time frame.


• Regular tasking of ministers to undertake missions and to participate in

international events on behalf of the high representative

• Systematic burden-sharing arrangements between EU delegations and

member states’ missions both in multilateral institutions and in bilateral

postings with the sharing of infrastructure and pooling of assets where


• Enhanced sharing of reporting and other information

• EU delegations acting as service providers for member states not

represented in the respective countries, supplying briefings and

supporting visiting delegations

• Development of crisis management task forces involving EEAS officials,

other EU institutions, and member states, both on political and expert

levels (“EU surge capacity”)

• Revisiting the issue of the delegations’ role in providing consular

protection to EU citizens at the 2013 EEAS review

• Continued efforts to reach the one-third share of member state diplomats,

particularly in the headquarters where there still is a serious shortfall

Strengthening Coherence of External Action

Climate change, migration, energy security, and terrorism are probably on most

Europeans’ lists of top challenges for the next ten years. A strengthened European

foreign policy would need the ability to effectively integrate the instruments to

deal with these and other global challenges into a coherent overall approach. In

spite of sometimes claiming the contrary, the EU currently does not live up to

this ambition. The competencies for dealing with key international problems are

subject to different legal procedures and are dealt with in different bodies.

The EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) handles traditional

diplomacy and crisis management on the basis of the intergovernmental

approach, which means that the Council’s role is dominant and those of the

Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Court are weak. The

community method, implying a strong role for the Commission, the Parliament,

and the Court, prevails in in the areas of trade, development, and enlargement as

well as regarding external aspects such as justice and home affairs, environment,

and energy. The member states also retain important competencies in a number

of these areas.

Effective coordination among these different aspects of the EU’s external

relations has so far been elusive. One major reason for this state of affairs was

the antagonistic mindset of the Commission and of member states. Each wanted

to protect its own areas of influence. The Commission feared that its external

relations competencies would be contaminated by the intergovernmental

approach of the CFSP. And member states were concerned that the Commission

would interfere in traditional intergovernmental policies, particularly in the areas

of security and defense.

The Lisbon Treaty has done little to harmonize the divergent legal and

procedural approaches to handling international issues in the EU. It has,

however, locked the various dimensions of external relations together in

a new institutional structure designed to enforce greater coordination and

coherence. One key element of this is the assignment of multiple roles to the

high representative—Ashton’s job combines the functions of high representative

with those of a vice president of the Commission for External Relations. As vice

president of the European Commission, Catherine Ashton chairs the meetings

of the other commissioners dealing with external relations (RELEX). This was

supposed to reinforce her coordinating role when it comes to international issues

outside the scope of the CFSP.

This arrangement was based on the assumption that coordination between

the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Commission’s external

competencies would be easier if the same person sits atop of both hierarchies.

However, Catherine Ashton is not truly at the top in the Commission. In the

process of defining the powers of the EEAS, her boss, Commission president

Jose Manuel Barroso, took an essentially defensive line. The Commission worked

toward limiting the scope and competencies of the new service, protected its

own powers, and in some areas even built firewalls between itself and the EEAS.

A cynic might say that the Commission has shared with the EEAS its more

problematic features like bureaucracy and rigid procedures but not its real assets,

namely competencies and money.

One crucial decision was the choice of the instrument of an “inter-institutional

service” as the legal basis for the EEAS. This denied the service any executive

power over its own budget, making it wholly dependent on the Commission in

the implementation of its policies.

A major battle concerned the role of the EEAS in the area of development.

While the EEAS was eventually granted a role in programming, this is to

be done under the authority of the commissioner for development. The

Commission thus succeeded in protecting its final say in the area of development

policy. A key component of the EU’s relations with the majority of countries in

the South, therefore, remains largely independent from foreign policy.

Catherine Ashton responded to the Commission’s restrictive approach by

focusing on her role as high representative and on the CFSP and crisis

management issues rather than on her function as vice president of the

Commission. She hardly ever chairs meetings of the RELEX commissioners.

After a year of the functioning of the new system, few of the expected gains in

coherence have materialized. Some progress toward using the various external

policy instruments in a more integrated manner has been achieved in the

framework of the European Neighborhood Policy, which seeks to develop links

between the EU and countries to the EU’s east and south. By its nature, that

policy requires a crosscutting methodology. In the EU’s response to the Arab

Spring, the task forces set up by the high representative have proven useful in

promoting a comprehensive approach to that issue. The current revision of the

external action instruments for the upcoming Multiannual Financial Framework

should also help to ensure that the EU’s foreign policy interests are better taken

into account in the future. So far, these positive developments are exceptions to

the rule, however. For the most part the various components of external relations

continue to lead their separate lives instead of becoming part of a unified strategy.

Some key elements of the EU’s external relations, such as trade and, in

particular, the external aspects of environmental policies (such as climate

change) or of justice and home affairs (migration) as well as energy policy, were

never meant to fall within the scope of the EEAS. Nonetheless, they constitute

crucial elements of the broader international agenda and are important subjects

of regional and global multilateral cooperation.

In this regard the post-Lisbon arrangements actually represent a step backward.

Previously, the Commission’s former Directorate General for External Relations,

which was merged into the EEAS, maintained a limited capacity to deal with the

external dimension of the internal community policies, such as energy and the

environment. However, these experts have not been transferred to the EEAS ;

they remained in the Commission. The gap between foreign policy in a narrow

sense and Community competencies has thus widened. The EU finds it even more

difficult than before to integrate the various components into a coherent strategy.

While taking a restrictive approach to the EEAS, the Commission—somewhat

paradoxically—was at the same time very successful in ensuring that the great

majority of management positions in the new service were given to Commission

officials. Thus, in terms of expertise and familiarity with the Commission’s

procedures, there is in theory a genuine potential for a more integrated

approach. However, due to narrow institutional interests, that opportunity is

not fully exploited.

Of course, the Commission is not the only “turf minded” actor hindering the

emergence of a more coherent and unified external policy. Some individual

member states show similar reluctance. During the summer and autumn of

2011, the United Kingdom blocked a large number of statements in international

organizations on the grounds that such statements could not be made “on behalf

of the EU” if aspects relating to the national competencies of member states

were concerned. Nonetheless, the Commission’s insufficient engagement for the

development of a credible EEAS is particularly worrisome. If the EEAS remains

restricted primarily to the CFSP it will represent hardly any progress over the

pre-Lisbon system. Given the increasing linkages between the various aspects of

external relations, the EU urgently needs a more coherent approach.

A crucial role in ensuring future coherence of external relations can be played

from the bottom up by the EU delegations in third countries. With their

focus on a particular country, the delegations should be able to develop a

comprehensive vision of the EU’s bilateral relationships that brings together

community and intergovernmental elements. Through reporting and through

the local coordination function of the head of delegation, this comprehensive

approach can also be fed into the Brussels policy process.

Unfortunately, the current makeup of the delegations makes this task rather

difficult. Only the delegation heads and the political departments are part of the

EEAS. Outside of that, the delegations are comprised of officials from different

parts of the Commission services, such as trade and development experts. As the

instructions and reporting lines remain separate, the Brussels divisions persist

on the level of the delegations and hinder the emergence of a truly coherent

approach. While local team spirit and the leadership quality of the head of

delegation can sometimes compensate for these handicaps, efforts to integrate

the delegations better would make them more effective instruments of EU

foreign policy.

It has to be admitted that the objective of enhancing member-state ownership

and that of strengthening the support of the Commission are not easy to

reconcile. An EEAS that is closer to the member states might find it more

difficult to develop a strong relationship with the Commission, which

prides itself on its independence. Conversely, if the member states perceive a

Commission “takeover” of the EEAS, they will distance themselves further.

Nonetheless, both aforementioned objectives have to be pursued actively and in

a balanced manner. A “stand-alone” EEAS would be largely irrelevant, but if it

manages to link its two sets of stakeholders closely together, the EU will have

taken a major step forward.


• Similar to the approach taken in the response to the Arab Spring, the

high representative and the Commission should submit joint papers to

promote coherent EU policies for different regions.

• The current revision of the external action instruments for the upcoming

Multiannual Financial Framework should be used to ensure that foreign

policy and security aspects are better taken into account in the future.

• The EEAS review of 2013 should address coordination regarding

external competencies as a matter of priority, in particular as regards

global challenges. The capacity of the EEAS on these questions should be


• Systematic and regular consultation between the president of the

European Council, the president of the European Commission, and the

high representative should be ensured.

• Coordination among RELEX commissioners under the leadership of the

high representative/vice president of the Commission should be revived.

• Steps should be taken to better integrate the EEAS and Commission

elements of the EU delegations.

Agenda Setting and Leadership

The process of making foreign policy in Brussels resembles an enormous

machine. More than twenty working groups on geographic and thematic topics

report to the Political and Security Committee and the Committee of Permanent

Representatives. Monthly meetings of the foreign ministers are held, along with

a plethora of regular dialogue meetings with international partners on various

levels (the high representative has more than 80 such commitments a year). All

of this, combined with the daily need to react to unfolding events, produces a

steady stream of declarations, demarches, conclusions, and press statements.

Without strong leadership at the center, much of this activity turns into empty

words and sterile rituals. This agenda- and priority-setting role had been the core

task of the EU’s presidency, which was rarely very good at it. Now, according to

the Lisbon Treaty, this function has been transferred to the high representative

and the EEAS.

Catherine Ashton has proven to be an efficient chairperson of the Foreign

Affairs Council. She handles the debates well and is good at arriving at agreeable

conclusions. However, in terms of agenda setting and overall leadership of

EU foreign policy, there are considerable deficits. This is unsurprising given

the newness of the post-Lisbon arrangements and the difficult political

context. However, it will be one the main benchmarks against which the high

representative and the EEAS will be judged.

What is needed most of all is a more focused approach. Ten years ago the

EU foreign ministers discussed a range of issues, but most of the substantive

debates concerned only two policy areas : the Balkans and the Middle East. In

the meantime, the agenda has become much more crowded and truly globalized.

Yet, the capacity to produce real foreign policy results (rather than just press

declarations) has not grown at the same rate. Consequently, the EU’s response

to many foreign policy challenges remains unconvincing. There is a real need to

concentrate attention and resources on policy issues where the EU can make a

real difference. The high representative needs to take a clearer lead in setting the

agenda. She and the EEAS should be more proactive in shaping policies and in

proposing concrete outcomes. The debates in the Foreign Affairs Council should

be prepared more systematically, particularly through option and decision papers.

Eight years have passed since the EU drew up its European Security Strategy,

which offered a broad vision of the security environment of the EU and set

out some principles of a response to these challenges. While the paper was

reviewed and updated in 2008, it would seem useful in view of the important

external developments and the internal restructuring of the EU’s foreign policy

machinery that have taken place in the meantime to initiate the elaboration of a

new strategic concept. This would be a good way to give the EEAS a coherent

conceptual framework and a sense of strategic direction.


In the post-Lisbon era, in which the leadership in Brussels remains stable for a

number of years, there seems to be a good case for a far-reaching streamlining

of the mechanisms of political dialogue. The cumbersome system of regular

dialogue meetings with international partners, which absorbs a great part of

the EU’s foreign policy capacity, was developed to suit the needs of the rotating

presidency.3 Every member state wanted its share of summits and ministerial

meetings at which their ministers could rub shoulders with assorted world

leaders. Such meetings are sometimes useful to develop and to energize a

bilateral relationship, but frequently they have turned into expensive and empty

rituals. Of course, there should still be summits and ministerial meetings, but

they should take place when needed and not according to a rigid calendar. The

EU should develop a more informal, flexible, and operational methodology for

engaging key international partners.

In parallel to the official leadership of EU foreign policy there exists—at times

more, at times less visibly—another type of leadership, which is that of the big

member states. As they own by far the greatest part of the EU’s diplomatic,

economic, and military assets, they naturally also wish to play a prominent role

in EU foreign policy.

Attempts to set up some kind of informal “directorate” of the big countries (for

example, then UK prime minister Tony Blair’s invitation to German chancellor

Gerhard Schroeder, French president Jacques Chirac, and French prime minister

Lionel Jospin for “dinner” in London on Afghanistan in 2001) usually met with

a forceful, negative response from those who were excluded. From the point of

view of the smaller member states, a stronger European foreign policy is not

worth having if the big countries hijack it.

This does not mean that a lead role for the bigger countries will not be

accepted if it is handled in a more tactful manner. Whereas in a community

of six member states decisions could be prepared in plenary discussions, this

is clearly no longer the case in an EU with 27 members. On most important

issues, some (usually) discreet and informal consultations take place in which

primarily the big member states participate. Most of these groupings remain

in the background, but some, such as the German/French/UK group on Iran,

come into the open. The smaller states do not welcome this caucusing among

the big but tolerate it as long as certain ground rules are observed : the interests

of member states particularly concerned about the issue in question have to be

taken into account and sufficient time has to be given to discussions among the

27 before a decision is taken.

Will the Lisbon Treaty weaken or strengthen the role of the big member states in

shaping European foreign policy ? Traditionally, the rotating presidency (when it

was not held by one of the big countries) served as a kind of counterweight, as

it alone had the legitimacy to speak and act on behalf of the EU. With the entry

into force of the new treaty, this constraint on “directorate” tendencies has been

lost. Now, as mere “officials,” the high representative, but also the president of the

European Council will find it more difficult to resist the pressure of big countries.

Naturally, the high representative has to work closely with the countries having

the greatest diplomatic resources. On some issues she can provide a link between

the smaller circle and the work of the EU as such. At the same time she needs

to insist that the basic rules of inclusiveness and transparency are observed and

that all member states remain actively involved. It will be essential to strike the

right balance. If the big EU member states are perceived to take too much of a

lead, this will alienate the smaller countries and reduce their support. Equally

problematic would be an underinvestment by the bigger states in the CFSP in

general and in the EEAS in particular. If cooperation and political coordination

between the main political actors in Europe takes place outside the common

European structures, the CFSP would rapidly lose its relevance.

There is no better way for the high representative to strengthen her authority

as a leader of EU foreign policy than to build up a record of concrete successes.

Such achievements require a great deal of sustained effort. While a regular

delegation of tasks to both foreign ministers and commissioners would help

reduce the workload, with all of her commitments, the high representative will

only be able to devote the necessary level of personal engagement to a limited

number of issues. The selection of such issues should therefore be made with

great care. She is more likely to achieve results where the EU already has some

leverage, such as in the Balkans and in the European neighborhood, than on

distant continents or in relations with strategic partners. Catherine Ashton’s

successes in starting a dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, in avoiding a

referendum on the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina, or in reenergizing the work of

the Middle East Quartet are all cases in point.

Now that the priority task of establishing the EEAS is fairly advanced (even

though a great deal remains to be done) there should be more time available

for this type of work. One of the EEAS’s priorities should be identifying

such potential issues on which well-timed personal engagement from the high

representative could be decisive for success.


• More effective and restrictive agenda management allowing the Foreign

Affairs Council and the EEAS to focus on policy areas where the EU can

provide real added value

• More use of planning and option papers prepared by the EEAS

• Elaboration of a new European Foreign Policy Strategy

• Radical streamlining of political dialogue mechanism, replacing fixed

regularity with a needs-based approach

• High representative to play linking and balancing role between bigger

member states and the rest of the 27

• Stronger focus on potential deliverables for personal political engagement

of the high representative

Enhancing Institutional Capacity

Two years after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty there are probably

fewer officials working on European foreign policy than before. The new

service brought together the relevant departments from the Commission and the

Council Secretariat. It also includes the heads, deputy heads, and the political

departments of the EU delegations. In addition, about 120 new posts have been

created. Altogether the EEAS currently comprises roughly 3,200 staff. This

compares to about 12,000 people working in the French and 3,700 in the Dutch

foreign services.

What is missing, compared to the pre-Lisbon era, is the considerable manpower

that the rotating presidency used to deploy. In the old system, the foreign

ministry holding the presidency not only mobilized most of its resources but

often also recruited additional personnel. Doing more with less is a good slogan

in this time of austerity, but there is a risk that the gap between the expectations

regarding the new service and what it can really deliver will become too wide.

The problem starts at the very top. Appointing two political-level deputies to the

high representative would alleviate the problem of overburdening the EU’s foreign

policy chief. Ideally, they should be able to represent the high representative/

vice president in all her functions. Alternatively, one deputy (chosen from the

circles of current and former foreign ministers) could assist in the roles of

high representative and president of the Foreign Affairs Council while one

commissioner could be chosen to help in the coordination of external relations.

Size matters in foreign policy. In order to be taken seriously by outside partners

and by the foreign ministries of member states, the EEAS teams working on a

particular subject need to have a critical mass. This is currently the case on some

topics, such as the Balkans or the Middle East, but not on many others. As long

as the relevant teams in London, Paris, or Berlin are three or four times the

size of the respective EEAS capacity, the new service will not be a real player.

A moderate increase in the size of the EEAS staff over the coming years will

be essential to strengthen the credibility of the service. This should also involve

providing budgetary resources to allow for the hiring of contractual agents that

would enhance the flexibility of the service.

Part of the additional manpower should also benefit the political departments

of the EU delegations. The new political role that the EU delegations inherited

from the presidency is clearly one of the most promising innovations of the

Lisbon Treaty. With their comprehensive mandate including both the traditional

trade and development components as well as the political and security

aspects, the EU ambassadors can become influential interlocutors of the local

government. Through their role in coordinating the EU heads of missions they

can also play a crucial part in enhancing EU coherence. This positive effect of

the Lisbon arrangement is already in evidence in many places. However, the

political departments of the delegations frequently lack the necessary minimum

strength to unlock this positive potential of the delegations. The dearth of

expertise on security issues is another serious deficit in most delegations that

needs to be addressed.

In the course of the 2013 EEAS review, the organizational structure of the

service should be revisited. The division of work among the members of the

managing board, which oversees the work of the EEAS, should be made clearer.

The crisis management units, which at the present stage appear “semi-detached,”

should be better integrated with the rest of the service. The process for the

clearing of briefs, declarations, and demarches is time-consuming and should be

made easier and faster.

A key criterion for the review should be to enhance the reactivity of the EEAS

and of EU foreign policy as a whole. Today, a foreign policy actor must be

capable of responding almost instantly to developments. The crises of the

Arab Spring have shown that there is an accelerating feedback loop between

events on the ground and input from outside actors. A few hours can make

the difference between whether an EU statement contributes to shaping

developments or whether it is already dead on its arrival on the website. More

delegation of responsibility, a shorter and simpler chain of command, and a

greater amount of mutual trust between key actors within the service could

significantly enhance effectiveness.

The EEAS brings together people from very different backgrounds. The

Commission has its own very particular institutional culture : technocratic,

hierarchical, legalistic, but also supranational in the sense that it is intrinsically

committed to serving European interests. Diplomatic services for their part are

generally more internationally minded than other parts of national bureaucracies,

but serving the national interest remains their central mission. As the diplomats

in the EEAS will return to their national services after a few years of service to

the EU, there is always a good possibility that their primary loyalty will remain

with their country of origin. Joining the EEAS requires significant adjustment.

Some commission officials used to implementing technical programs find it

difficult to get used to diplomatic work and the more political approach of

the EEAS, just as some diplomats experience difficulties in coping with the

technical and financial aspects of the work of EU delegations.

Inevitably, the building of any new institution, particularly if the preparation

process has been short and improvised, involves considerable uncertainty and

produces a good deal of stress. At the same time, being part of a new beginning

in European foreign policy should create a feeling of enthusiasm. At this point

talking to EEAS officials you are confronted with a great deal of the former, but

not yet enough of the latter.

To integrate people from such different backgrounds into a new institution

with its own identity and a common sense of purpose and to motivate them to

give their best will require strong leadership and a clear vision at the top. But it

also needs to be supported by systematic training and by modern management


While achieving the one-third share of national diplomats remains the primary

objective in the short term, in the longer term, it would make sense to reexamine

the rules for recruitment into the EEAS. A more open approach that also

allows the recruitment of experts from business, academia, or nongovernmental

organizations would be more suitable for the extremely complex character of

international relations today. To be successful, the EEAS should be able to

bring the best specialists for particular countries and particular subject matters

together while maintaining the sense of ownership and commitment of the EU

institutions and the member states.


• Appointing two political-level deputies to assist the high representative/

vice president

• Strengthening the human resources of the EEAS, both through the

creation of additional posts but also through budgetary provisions for

hiring contractual agents

• Particular emphasis on strengthening the political departments of EU

delegations and on building expertise on security issues

• Review of the organizational structure, involving a clearer division of

work and better integration of the crisis management structures

• Streamlining the process of clearing briefings and statements with a view

to enhancing the reactivity of the service

• Systematic efforts to build a common identity and a common sense

of purpose for the EEAS, including through training and modern

management instruments

• In the longer term, opening up the recruitment process to allow the

hiring of experts outside EU institutions and diplomatic services


Treaty change is not the only or even the primary driver of the development of

European foreign policy. The overall dynamics of European integration also

play a crucial role. The current euro crisis is clearly a significant handicap in

this regard. A state of permanent crisis management currently absorbs most of

European political leaders’ attention, distracting them from foreign policy. The

crisis also undermines the EU’s confidence and reduces its soft power on the

international stage. Fiscal austerity depletes the resources available for setting

up a credible new institution. Many of the shortcomings of the EEAS’s present

setup can be explained by this factor.

If the eurozone ultimately disintegrates, EU foreign policy will simply be part

of the collateral damage and face a setback that could last several years. A

successful consolidation of the eurozone on the other hand should over time

also provide a new impetus to foreign and security policy. It is too early to tell

whether this would take place in the framework of the EU as a whole or possibly

in the smaller framework of a new hard core of the EU.

Also key to the development of European foreign policy are the external

challenges the EU faces. In this regard there are certainly sufficiently important

developments out there to stimulate a serious foreign policy response. The

political transformation of the Arab world is a game changer in the EU’s

strategic environment comparable to the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. The EU’s

entire southern neighborhood is likely to see years of dynamic change, which

will also touch on the Union’s important interests. All this takes place at a time

when Washington is clearly signaling that Europe can no longer rely on the

United States to take care of its security interests.

This is the political context in which the further implementation of the Lisbon

Treaty will take place. While the internal crisis of the EU will at least initially

act as a brake, the external environment should act as an accelerator for moving

forward. At a time of dramatic change in its neighborhood, the EU must simply

live up to its responsibilities as a force for stability and development.

There is thus much at stake in the further handling of the EEAS. If no remedial

action is taken, the new service can rapidly drift into irrelevance, while the

member states return to a primarily nationally defined foreign policy. If,

however, member states can be convinced to buy into the EEAS and support

its mission, if the Commission engages constructively, if the high representative

exerts stronger and more visible leadership, and if the institutional capacity of

the EU foreign policy machine can be upgraded, it should be possible to achieve

a more coherent and effective EU foreign policy. To identify the steps that need

to be taken in this context is not difficult. Mobilizing the political will to actually

get them done will be the real challenge.


1 Now, the same foreign policy issue can be discussed under three chairs : the presidency in

the Committee of Permanent Representatives, the high representative in the Council, and

the president of the European Council.

2 See the chapter on enhancing institutional capacity.

3 I am grateful to Pedro Serrano for this thought.