European Council on Foreign Relations

Madrid View: the EEAS, Bismarck and sausages

I went to Brussels for a two day visit to get some insights about how EU foreign policy and the EEAS are doing. The expectation was that I would get bad weather but a brighter and more optimist look than the one we get at the capitals. To my surprise, I got tanned after having lunch under the sun in a restaurant garden at Archimedes, but really depressed about the EEAS. Here is a snapshot of the gossip I collected:

Foreign Ministers do not have a fluid relation with Ashton, and only a few have her mobile number. Ashton irritates Defence Ministers by making them wait for 45 minutes so she can properly attend to the press. People in the Council lament that the EEAS has become a sort of Commission B, rigid, bureaucratic and unattractive and that people are leaving it. People in the Commission complain about the Council trying to override them. In turn, people say that the Commission is rebuilding the units which in theory have been transferred to the EEAS. In the meantime, the Parliament says it is not being heard when it comes to foreign policy. Even within the EEAS, people complain that divisions at the top have weakened the cohesion of the management team and resulted in problems of internal coordination and that their footprint in the EU Delegations abroad is quite small because in practical terms, 2/3 of the Delegations are staffed by Development people answerable to the Commission, not the High Representative.

On my way back, I sat on the plane and read the last Communication by the HR and the European Commission reviewing the EU Neighbourhood  Policy, which had been issued the same day I was there. And you know what? The Communication is okay: it goes for “deep democracy”, comprehensive free trade, more conditionality, links with civil society, mobility partnerships, more money. Before I nodded off after a long day, I remember what Bismarck said: ”people like sausages, but do not want to know how they are made”. Relieved, I thought he was probably right.

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