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What will its forthcoming review in 2013 reveal about the EEAS?


BRUSSELS – Two years after its official launch, the EU’s foreign policy wing, the European External Action Service (EEAS), faces heavy criticism from all sides. Its much acclaimed raison d’être of enhancing the coherence and effectiveness of EU external action failed to translate into a comprehensive approach, experts argue.

The hope that the EEAS would serve as the effective platform for coordinating foreign and security policy and the external responsibilities of the European Commission has not been fulfilled so far, they said. Moreover, much remains to be done to enhance the member states’ sense of “ownership” in this new foreign policy instrument.

These and other points were discussed during a roundtable here on 23 November on the future of EU external action. Organised by the European Peace building Liaison Office, the event brought together officials from the EEAS, member state representatives and other relevant stakeholders to discuss the prospects for the 2013 EEAS review, recommendations for reform and long-term scenarios centred around the EEAS’ external initiatives.

The union’s decision to establish the EEAS included a provision for the organisation’s review, to be presented by the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (Catherine Ashton) by mid-2013. It will be the first opportunity to assess the EEAS’ strengths and weaknesses.

A joint communication to be presented by the Commission and the High Representative in 2013 on the EU’s “comprehensive” approach will opine how the EEAS, the Commission and the 27 nations could make better use of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) regarding conflict-affected countries and how existing policy tools could better serve the EU’s external actions.

Most speakers during the roundtable pointed to the absence of any sort of comprehensive approach for the EEAS. Denisa-Elena Ionete, head of unit for Fragility and Crisis Management within the Commission’s Directorate-General for Development and Cooperation, said the forthcoming joint communication will outline a strategic view and principles for cooperation rather than “prescriptive orders” for action.

Piritta Asunmaa, Finland’s permanent representative to the Council’s work group known as the Political and Security Committee, said her country wants the EEAS to have a more prominent role regarding CSDP issues. She also said the EU’s 2003 European Security Strategy is “an outdated tool inventory” that ought to be replaced by real strategic thinking.

Criticism of the ESS also came from the Maastricht-based European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM). In its report issued in early November, the ECDPM argues that the ESS is inadequate as a strategy because it contains no concrete EU foreign policy positions or actions. The report also identifies four broad categories of problems now facing the EEAS, namely how to:

  • consolidate its leadership and agenda-setting
  • secure the buy-in of stakeholders
  • link the EEAS’ institutional and operational capabilities
  • deliver outputs coherently and consistently

Alexander Marschik, Austria’s representative within the Political and Security Committee, faulted the EEAS for its lack of common perspective. This projects the EU as “a rather timid actor” on the international stage, he observed, adding that EU foreign policy “must go beyond meetings in Brussels”, with the EEAS engaging more with the outside world.

Marschik referred to a major foreign policy communication deficit which he jokingly labelled as “EU-tism” and “EU-nemia”. He warned that CSDP missions are often confined to secretarial work, thus missing opportunities to shape the EU’s foreign policy agenda.

Other participants voiced the following criticisms: the EU’s focuses too much on internal matters; the EEAS’ main problem is leadership and lack of prioritisation; there is too little focus on CSDP; and finally, the EEAS suffers from low visibility, transparency and accountability for its actions.

 THE UPSHOT: The EEAS has indeed had a difficult start. The euro crisis has taken its toll on EU foreign policy action, throwing the EEAS “in the back seat” in terms of priorities and its visibility and leadership.
Moreover, the term “comprehensive approach” sounds comforting but what does it really mean? Civilian assistance? military? humanitarian? Ask six stakeholders to nail it down in concrete terms and you’ll get no consistent answers.
Indeed, its critics point out that comprehensiveness has been achieved at the price of coherence which has led the EEAS into a bureaucratic maze with major communication and coordination issues.
As for the EEAS’ upcoming review, it remains to be seen whether this will be objectively technical in nature, leading to concrete change, or end up getting heavily politicised, meaning that any reorganisational “reforms” will mainly be on paper. Indeed, without EU Treaty revisions that transfer more CSDP sovereignty to Brussels, any reform will only be a nominal exercise. SECURITY EUROPE will follow update its readers on the issue accordingly.

About Ramona Kundt

Ramona Kundt was deputy editor at SECURITY EUROPE from 2008-2012.

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