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Tuesday, 22 June 2010

E.U. Diplomatic Service Moves Closer to Birth

After months of delay, the creation of the European Union’s new diplomatic service took a significant step forward Monday, opening the way for it to start phasing in operations by autumn.  The new diplomatic service will employ several thousand diplomats but will be based on the European Commission’s network of offices around the globe.  That in itself is triggering tensions, with commission staff reportedly trying to hold on to key political jobs in individual delegations ahead of the anticipated arrival of national foreign ministry officials, who may have greater political experience than commission counterparts whose expertise is in disbursing billions of euros of E.U. development aid.  The breakthrough came after a political deal was agreed to among the bloc’s different institutions, particularly the European Parliament, which had blocked moves to establish the new service.  The creation of the new diplomatic corps was made possible by the 27-nation bloc’s Lisbon Treaty, which went into force at the end of last year and was designed to give the European Union a more powerful role in the world. But progress on setting up the so-called European External Actions Service had proved painfully slow before negotiations in Madrid on Monday led to the breakthrough. The process underlined the extent to which institutional turf wars and divergences among its member states continue to undermine the European Union’s effectiveness and cohesion.  Creating the new service has been fraught with difficulties and has been one of the main obstacles confronting Catherine Ashton, the bloc’s foreign policy chief, as she seeks to use her role to present a more unified European stance on the international stage.  Ms. Ashton first had to balance the competing interests of the European Council, where national governments meet, and the European Commission, the bloc’s executive, which controls European spending on areas like development aid.  She then encountered difficulties placating the European Parliament, which has also received greater powers under the Lisbon Treaty in an effort to give the workings of the European Union more democratic accountability.

Source: The New York Times