Shaping an identity for the EEAS
The European External Action Service (EEAS) is commonly described as the EU’s ‘diplomatic service’. The Lisbon treaty, though, merely says that “the high representative [for foreign affairs and security policy] shall be assisted by a European External Action Service”. And, in the spareness of its language, the treaty gives a closer description of reality: the EEAS is not like a traditional diplomatic service, dealing solely with foreign policy and answering to one master, a government.
It is, rather, an institutional oddity. Because it assists the high representative, currently Catherine Ashton, it operates in two fields that, in a national context, are handled by two ministries – foreign policy and security policy. It co-ordinates policies that emanate from, and report to, different political institutions: the European Commission and the Council of Ministers. Its main tools are beyond its direct control: the Commission administers its financial instruments and offers economic co-operation, while member states provide the military and civilian assets to implement security policy. It is made up of national diplomats as well as Commission officials of varying diplomatic experience.
For members of the EEAS, this means simultaneously performing several roles in different political contexts and different legal frameworks. In such an environment, and with multiple tasks and great expectations of it, the EEAS will struggle to find and maintain coherence unless it has an overarching identity.
As yet, it lacks one. Since the EEAS is new, its senior officers cannot convey a sense of identity or institutional memory. Nor can the EEAS base its legitimacy on how effectively it uses the EU’s external action instruments, since they are beyond its direct control.
How might the EEAS acquire the type of identity and esprit de corps needed by administrative organisations that aspire to last for decades?
That identity should be independent of whomever happens to be high representative. It needs a clear mandate, both to fashion an esprit de corps and to meet 21st-century diplomacy’s demand for clear and timely messages. And its identity must be anchored in a distinctive role and a specific area of authority.
Fortunately, there is an obvious role that the EEAS can take on: as a guardian of the acquis that make up the EU’s common and foreign security policy (CFSP).
The acquis comprises all political decisions and legal acts that the EU member states have taken in the framework of the CFSP, including the common security and defence policy: conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Council, CFSP-relevant conclusions of the European Council, strategies, joint actions, common positions, declarations, and démarches.
Together, these make up the focal point of all EU external action. This body of decisions and acts reflects the policy assessment shared by the 27 capitals, and other EU policies have to be attuned with the political guidelines they enshrine.
The acquis is constantly evolving through negotiation. As such, the acquis serves both as a reference point and starting point for further discussions. Its informal codification limits the degree to which new governments can depart from the established line. And, chiefly through the conclusions of the Council, the acquis also provides the EEAS with a to-do list.
If the EEAS is to become a guardian, its diplomats should exploit the major option they have: presiding over the working groups in the Council of Ministers where decisions and acts are negotiated. In that position, they can preserve the consistency of the acquis, ‘Europeanise’ proposals from national capitals, and sponsor consensus between the capitals.
Ultimately, the EEAS’s political weight will depend not just on how it masters internal negotiations. It needs to provide the type of skilled reporting and analysis offered by national diplomatic services. And the EU’s ambassadors will need to be able to deliver the agreed line not just to partners, but also to the media. This will not be easy. But having a clear collective identity would help.
Valentin Misteli is a research fellow at the Centre of Security Studies, ETH Zurich