Diplomatic service beset by teething problems

Sat, Jan 7, 2012, 00:00

EU FOREIGN policy chief Catherine Ashton has reported serious teething problems in her nascent diplomatic service, saying the new body is struggling to carry out basic administrative functions due to a lack of resources.

In a paper marking the first anniversary of the creation of the European External Action Service, Ms Ashton says the debt crisis, austerity policies and the Arab Spring have made the task more challenging.

“This is hardly the ideal backdrop for the launch of a new service for the external relations of the union,” says the report.

The EEAS’s budget will rise by €29.6 million this year to €493.6 million. It is legally bound to carry out its duties on a “resource-neutral basis”, meaning it cannot impose an additional financial burden on the EU generally.

While senior EU officials insist there is no deviation from this policy, Ms Ashton says “insufficient provision” has been made for the needs of the EEAS as an autonomous body in financial and administrative terms.

“Although some of the challenges may be transitional, there is a structural deficit that will need to be addressed over time.” Her report comes soon after the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and eight other countries said in a private letter that bureaucracy was hampering the EEAS. Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore was not party to the letter.

The EEAS was created under the Lisbon Treaty as part of the effort to boost Europe’s influence in global affairs. It has 3,611 staff, 1,551 of them in Brussels and 2,060 in some 140 diplomatic missions around the world.

Officials acknowledge difficulty in the creation of a unified culture within this structure, saying many EEAS staff remain in the same office they worked in before transferring to the new body.

“The setting up of a new organisation on the scale of the EEAS is clearly a long-term project whose success can only be assessed over a period of several years,” Ms Ashton says.

While reporting “important progress” by the EEAS, she cites problems with information technology services and says the body finds it difficult to meet “even minimum standards” in terms of financial programming, personnel policy and security.