Muddle and delay blight start of diplomatic corps
The European External Action Service (EEAS), which has been a year in the making, is supposed to provide Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign and security, with the means to forge a more coherent foreign policy for the EU. But Ashton has delayed decisions on the organisation and personnel of the EEAS, leaving more than 1,500 officials from the European Commission and the Council of Ministers in the dark about their future jobs.
The EU institutions are to close for the Christmas holidays from 23 December, so for most of the future EEAS staff there are only five working days left before the launch, counting today (16 December).
The service’s senior managers have been in place since 1 December, but it is on 3 January that entire units are to be transferred from the Commission and the Council secretariat into the EEAS. Many of those staff will be returning to their offices in the New Year not knowing the identity of their line manager. Officials said that they did not know what would happen to positions that currently exist in both institutions, particularly the country desks.
Officials said they were “confused” and “worried” about the practicalities of their transfer. “My colleagues are wondering, where will I work and what will my work be?” one official said.
Officials and diplomats criticised Ashton’s private office, which has had primary responsibility for the planning of the EEAS. Ashton makes the senior appointments. “I don’t know what’s incompetence, what’s lack of resources and what’s arrogance,” a diplomat said.
Some improvements have been made since David O’Sullivan took up his position as the EEAS’s head of administration on 15 November. “At least now I’m confident that there’s somebody pushing [the organisation of the EEAS] forward, which was the main frustration before O’Sullivan came on board,” an official said. “The management is now fully aware of the problems with the organisational set-up.”
A representative of a staff union said that before O’Sullivan started, the unions had had no working meetings with Ashton about the transfer of staff; there have since been three meetings with O’Sullivan.
An aide to Ashton said that the management had been working during the last week on a “more comprehensive” organisation chart that would clarify lines of accountability. But the document has not yet been approved by Ashton and is unlikely to be seen by many officials before the Christmas break.
Since the chart is not expected to contain the names of heads of units, most future EEAS members will not know to whom to report for work in January. Of the six departments of the EEAS, at least one – that dealing with cross-cutting issues such as terrorism, human rights and non-proliferation – will start without a managing director: the position is to be re-advertised in the coming days.
Ingeborg Grässle, a German centre-right MEP, said that Ashton had done her homework on the EEAS “only partially”. “I just don’t understand why questions like the organisation chart are left open for so long,” she said. “A lot of time has passed, and we’re now looking for answers.”
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Most staff will remain in their current offices because the designated headquarters of the EEAS will not be ready until next summer, which is likely to confuse the lines of accountability still further.
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, a Polish centre-right MEP, said that “intensive work” was under way on the organisation of the EEAS. “We have to be patient,” he said. “The integration of two services is quite a difficult job and we have to judge Ashton by the results.” He said that the service was in a “grey zone” at present.
Graham Watson, a UK Liberal MEP, said that the EU’s human rights stance had “slipped” because “no one knows who is responsible for it”.
Alexander Stubb, Finland’s foreign minister, said: “The EEAS is a fantastic Christmas present for the EU and we need it badly. All organisational change takes time. There’s going to be a lot of question-marks left and right but things will settle down. People should not lose their patience.”