The EU’s new External Action Service was officially launched on 1 December as High Representative Catherine Ashton addressed a meeting of EU ambassadors. But the tussle over whether it will include key peacebuilding staff from the Commission continues (see my post of 22 Nov). The Commission’s position hasn’t changed and neither has the Parliament’s.
The Commission’s new draft general budget has confirmed its position that the the peacebuilding and crisis response planning and policy officers should not be transferred across to the EAS. Instead, the budget has them reassigned to financial administration duties in the Commission.
The Parliament has responded by keeping in place its “reserve”, meaning funds won’t be released for those positions unless they are transferred to the EEAS, in line with the Parliament’s interpretation of the June agreement on the staffing of the new service.
There will be a meeting on 6 December – a “trialogue” between Commission, Council and Parliament – to talk the issues through and see if there is a way to sort them out. It may be the first meeting of several.
The Commission’s argument and the foreign policy instruments service
An argument for the Commission’s position is expressed in – among many other places no doubt – a letter by Commission Secretary-General Catherine Day to the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office (EPLO), an NGO platform.
One of EPLO’s functions, funded by the Commission, is to facilitate dialogue on peacebuilding issues between civil society and the EU institutions. It wrote to the Commission to ask about the transfer of just two staff members from the Instrument for Stability team to the EAS (in my last post I had said it was three but perhaps I was being over-optimistic).
The response is full of reassurance about the commitment to conflict prevention and peacebuilding, and emphasises that there will be far than just the two staffers working on peacebuilding – only not in the External Action Service. Instead, responsibility for this area will be shared jointly by the Commission and the EAS.
To this end, apparently, another service is being set up: the Foreign Policy Instruments Service. Within the Commission. Located in the same building as the EAS. Working hand in hand.
The only thing is, it makes you wonder why the External Action Service has been set up at all.
For if the needs of coherence and coordination and the EU packing a policy punch more appropriate to its scale and its ambitions can all be met without peacebuilding staff joining the EAS, why should anybody be transferred into it?
policy without expertise?
Obviously, the needs of coherence and proper punching weight can’t be met except by bringing the appropriate staff together in one institution. That’s what the EAS was set up for.
And plenty of policy staff are being transferred. But not those with peacebuilding expertise.
The cost of leaving the peacebuilding staff outside the EAS is that their policy and planning input will not be at the heart of things. It will be treated by those inside the EAS as coming from outsiders, because that’s how institutional anthropology works. It risks being marginalised before the discussion begins.
And that means that policies on peacebuilding will be shaped without specific peacebuilding expertise being in play. It would be like working out policy on climate change without anybody on the team who knows about it. Or policy on Russia without any staff member who speaks or reads Russian.
It would be a pretty poor outcome after so many good things have been said about how the EAS should work and about the commitment to security, conflict prevention and peacebuilding being at the heart of its mission.
So as the EAS starts out in life, the tussle over its shape goes on, looking weirder as it progresses.