Commentary by Fiona GESKES
The European External Action Service is one of the biggest (and most ambiguous) developments, which emerged from the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009. Despite the fact it established the first diplomatic ‘agency’ of the EU, the Treaty only refers to the EEAS in one article, where it is stated that “this service shall work in cooperation with the diplomatic services of the Member States and shall comprise officials from relevant departments of the General Secretariat of the Council and of the Commission as well as staff seconded from national diplomatic services of the Member States.” (Art 27(3) TFEU).
The structure is quite clearly defined on its website. While the headquarters are located in Brussels, it has 140 delegations worldwide, which are made up by EU civil servants, local employees and civil servants from the EU member states. The daily work of the EEAS is overseen by the Corporate Board and five directorates, which cover the Asia-Pacific, Africa, European and Central Asia, the Greater Middle East and the Americas. Separate directorates cover global and multi-lateral issues, such as human rights and elections and developments. This, very roughly, covers the structure of EEAS, which brings us to the next point. What has the EEAS done since it was formally launched in 2011? There have been ample opportunities to showcase the EU’s new foreign service. Yet the perception of the EU as a foreign policy actor has not significantly changed by anybody’s standard, and has if anything – with the colossal challenges it has faced – worsened. Ukraine, Libya, Syria – none of these were moments that showcased the EU’s abilities in a good light.
Yet the problem with the EEAS does not lie with the institution itself, it lies with the status of the EU in general and the lack of direction when it comes to its foreign and security policy. One could go further and link it with the omnipresent question of what kind of actor the EU wishes and aims to be. While the status quo might have been sufficient in different times, the argument could be made that we are in political and geopolitical times that require a more comprehensive and unified response by the European Union. A response that is worthy of the economic and political status of the Union. All of the points above were made without taking the refugee crisis the EU experienced in 2015 into consideration. A crisis that has tested the fundamental moral compass of the EU and has caused a political divide that we have not seen in decades, with a 30% increase in right wing crimes in Germany being the extreme end of this divide. What does this all lead to? The need for a more comprehensive foreign policy of the EU. Regardless of the challenges the EU faces this year, this should be the mission of our political leaders.