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Result! A development-proof European External Action Service. Almost

Written by Mikaela Gavas


The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Spanish EU Presidency reached a compromise last week on the European External Action Service (EEAS). Formal approval by the European Parliament is expected early next month, and a formal Council decision to implement the service is expected this autumn.

The deal on the EEAS puts an end to months of in-fighting, turf wars and protracted negotiations. How has the EU's contribution to development cooperation fared in the final deal?  An open letter by the European Think Tanks Group in May 2010 and a subsequent policy brief in June 2010 set out four tests for the design of the new service -- a service that would:

  • promote the coherence of all internal and external EU policies and instruments with development objectives
  • ensure aid programming is informed by development principles rather than foreign policy interests
  • have a properly staffed service on the development side
  • offer appropriate accountability to the European Parliament.

What is the deal? The EEAS will coordinate all external action and will bring together all geographical desks. This will allow it to focus on overall political coordination of external action, whilst leaving the management of programmes to EuropeAid in the Commission. The stated intention is to improve the links between development and foreign policy, combine the Commission's technical expertise with the Council's political weight, and thus increase the EU's global role. The European Parliament will have a say over a large portion of the service's finances, and will be informed in advance of strategic and policy decisions. In terms of the four tests set by the Think-Tanks Group:

First, on policy coherence, the text states that:

‘In its contribution to the EU external cooperation programmes, the EEAS should seek to ensure that these programmes respond to the objectives for external action as set out in Article 21 and that they respect the objectives of EU development policy in line with Article 208. In this context, the EEAS should also promote the fulfilment of the objectives of the European Consensus on Development and the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid.' Article 21 states that sustainable development is one of the objectives of EU external action alongside democracy, the rule of law, human rights, conflict prevention, global trade integration, environmental protection, disaster management and multilateral cooperation. Article 208 states that the primary objective of EU development policy is poverty eradication.

‘Seeking' to ensure policy coherence for development may not be the strong and ambitious statement one would hope for. It is, however, strengthened with references to the commitment to policy coherence for development in the Lisbon Treaty and the European Consensus on Development.

Second, on aid programming, the new text states:

‘With regard to the European Development Fund and the Development Cooperation Instrument, any proposals, including those for changes in the basic regulations and the programming documents in paragraph 3 above, shall be prepared jointly by the relevant services in the EEAS and in the Commission under the responsibility of the Commissioner responsible for Development Policy and then jointly submitted with the High Representative for decision by the Commission.'

The idea is that the Commission and the EEAS will work together to identify and analyse country needs, priorities and performance, and allocate aid accordingly. The proposals will be submitted jointly by the High Representative and the Development Commissioner to the College of Commissioners, effectively creating a ‘dual key' or veto over aid programming. Commentators have argued consistently that the wording of the original text was too vague regarding the actual authority of the Development Commissioner over programming. The text now clearly states that aid programming is the responsibility of the Development Commissioner, which means, effectively, that the Development Commissioner will need to sign off on all programming documents produced by the EEAS. However, in case of disagreement between the Development Commissioner and the High Representative, it will be the College of Commissioners that will make the decision.

Third, on staffing:

The European Think-Tanks Group argued that it would be crucial for the EEAS to be properly staffed on the development side, with a Director General (DG) responsible for development, supported by strategic policy staff and with authority over the development units transferred into the EEAS from the Commission. In practice, DG Development will be sliced down the middle with geographical desks moved over into a DG Thematic in the EEAS. DG Thematic will deal with a whole range of global issues, from climate change to development cooperation.

The leftovers in DG Development would do well to merge with EuropeAid, creating a policy and implementation directorate, as this would increase DG Development's control over operational budgets and thereby its political relevance.

Fourth, on accountability:

Ashton's original proposal provided for a Secretary-General who would hold enormous power and at the same time, no parliamentary oversight of the EEAS and of decisions involving Community funds. The Members of the European Parliament insisted that the three Commissioners working with Ashton and her three deputies – who would be seen as ‘politically responsible' – should represent the service in its contact with Parliament.

Parliament managed to win this battle, ensuring that senior appointees to the EEAS are politically accountable to the Parliament when carrying out their duties. The final text states that Ashton's deputies will be the Foreign Minister of the country holding the rotating EU presidency, and for the Communitarian area of the service's activity, the relevant Commissioners -- Štefan Füle, the Czech Commissioner for enlargement, Andris Piebalgs, his Latvian colleague responsible for development, and Kristalina Georgieva, the Bulgarian Commissioner for humanitarian aid. They also won the battle to have discharge authority over the entire budget of the new service. This is a big win for the European Parliament which could, in the future, be used as leverage for influence.

As mentioned in an earlier blog , there would have been better ways to organise this. While the result is not ideal, it is not far short of it. On paper, international development occupies a place at the forefront of the EU's external policy and some safeguards have been put in place to protect its poverty focus. What really matters now is how it will work in practice.