Europe in the World

European External Action Service and National Diplomacies Project


Shaping the EU system of diplomacy: the European External Action Service and the future of foreign policy

11 March 2013


Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja said that the EU needed to make a solid contribution to solving global challenges – such as climate change, poverty, sustainable development, cross-border threats to human security – with one voice and a unified message.

When the European Union is able to do that, it can make a real difference, Tuomioja said. He argued that Europe could only make an impact on the global stage by speaking and acting as one, because the voices of individual EU member states would be lost in the wilderness. He stressed that it was acceptable for there to be individual voices on certain issues, but preferably they should not contradict the agreed common EU position.

Calling for the scope of EU foreign policy to be widened, Tuomioja argued that nearly all EU policies had an external dimension: hence the name European External Action Service (EEAS). All the tools of EU external action should be reflected in the work of the EEAS, which must be awarded sufficient resources to do its work in fields as diverse as trade, aid, climate change and energy, the minister insisted.

Tuomioja said the double-hatted role of the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission (HR/VP) – currently occupied by Catherine Ashton – should bring together all aspects of EU external action under a single leadership. But the position remained too modest within the Commission itself, he argued, calling for the HR/VP’s role there to be enhanced.

He argued that the HR/VP should effectively lead the commissioners dealing with external relations, giving a sense of leadership and coherence to EU external action. The EU needs to have a stronger impact its immediate neighbourhood, becoming an attractive partner for North Africa, a strong actor in the Middle East, a firm neighbour to the East, and a strong partner of the North, he added, calling on the HR/VP to take on a stronger role in neighbourhood policy.

Pierre Vimont, Executive Secretary General of the European External Action Service, said it is important to remember that the EU pursues a common foreign policy and not a single foreign policy, meaning that the EU’s common foreign policy must be consistent with what the 27 member states are doing at national level.

He expressed his belief that bit-by-bit, the EU was finding that common policy, but the process was very complicated and entailed a day-to-day search for added value – the biggest issue had been demonstrating the EEAS’s added value beyond what member states had already been doing themselves.

Vimont said we must all accept that the reality of becoming a global player (rather than just a ‘payer’) would create enemies as well as friends. Because the EU tended to want friends, it is generally a payer – and is not very used to making enemies, he explained.

Kristi Raik, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, said the common EU foreign policy had been among the biggest casualties of the crisis. She argued that the crisis had increased mistrust among member states, while at the same time making common EU action more imperative – because the crisis had accentuated Europe’s relative decline.

Raik suggested that today’s Europe did not really inspire on the global stage, and argued that the EEAS must be responsible for setting the EU’s foreign policy agenda. But member states had been making contradictory statements regarding the leadership role of the EEAS, she said – they were all complaining that the EEAS had not shown enough leadership, but at the same time, they were still very committed to the intergovernmental way of doing things.

Raik said much more could be done to tap into the work of EU Delegations, for example in terms of laptop diplomacy or sharing premises in parts of the world where some member states had no presence of their own. “All this is only just beginning,” she said.

She argued that the creation of the EEAS had heralded new forms of diplomatic interaction and penetration, but that it was still too early to say what effect this would have on the development of a common EU foreign policy.

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