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Monday, May 21, 2012

EU Diplomatic Service

An awful lot of what the European Union is up to passes completely under the radar of the people who have a direct interest in its actions:  Europeans.  The EU has been accused of having a "democratic deficit" which I think is a fair criticism.  The other side of the story is that most Europeans I meet aren't terribly interested in following the more arcane doings of this complicated political/bureaucratic monstrosity.  No sparkling photogenic personalities to grab and hold the public's attention and their initiatives tend to move at a snail's pace - very small steps over long periods of time (years, decades even).   The Blue Card is a perfect example.  Every month I meet people in Paris who have no clue that the EU has mandated the creation of this new work permit for Europe and once I explain the scheme to them, the reaction is almost always, "That's crazy!  We didn't vote for that! What do you mean it's been implemented in France?"  Hey, mes amis, try to keep up here.  This is your government at work and you have no idea what's going on?  Maybe Europeans could convince Fox news to start operating out of Bruxelles?  I think they would be thrilled at a chance to inform the public here.  On second thought, a U.S. news service that seems to take very seriously Tallyrand's maxim, "Agiter le peuple avant de s'en servir..." might be one Yankee import that Europe could do without.

So how many of you are aware that the EU took a big step in 2010 by creating its very own diplomatic service?  That's right.  In addition to all the diplomatic corps of the member-states, the EU now has its own diplomats who represent the Union as a whole.  It's called the European External Action Service (EEAS).  "The service integrates the European Commission's existing foreign representations into a network of embassies representing the EU. It is staffed by officials from the Commission and European Council Secretariat – who represent 60% – and national civil servants."

The creation of this service was not without controversy even though it was part of the Lisbon Treaty (you know, the one the member-states actually signed in order to "take Europe into the 21st century"?).  After much muttering and infighting about the composition, administration and financing of the service, a compromise was brokered by the Spanish in mid-2010.

Today the service is up and running under the leadership of EU High Representative Catherine Ashton.  I was tipped off to their existence and recent activities by this article,  Rotation 2012 de la diplomatie européenne : 17 nommés, in a blog I follow regularly called Bruxelles2:  "Le premier blog – webnews francophone consacré à la Politique étrangère de l'UE et l'Europe de la Défense."  A really excellent source for news about EU foreign and defense policy.  They report that 17 new EU ambassadors were put into service in May of this year and there is an on-going recruitment process for "les chefs de délégation pour Cuba, Djibouti, l’Islande, le Maroc, le Nigeria, le Paraguay, la région pacifique (Fidji) et l’Uruguay."

Does the existence of this service mean that Henry Kissinger's cynical (and very condescending) question, "Who do you call when you want to speak to Europe?" has been answered?  Debatable.

But what it is today is less important than what it could be in the future.  EU integration marches on - slowly but surely - a steamroller with no reverse gear.  Not necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but something Europeans should watch closely lest the centimeter they hand over to them today becomes a kilometer tomorrow.

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