European foreign policy: the Berlaymont strikes back

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The Lisbon Treaty aimed to improve the coherence of Europe’s foreign policy by giving one person two jobs – High Representative of the member states and external affairs commissioner. Catherine Ashton survived by largely ignoring the second aspect. Now, Jean-Claude Juncker has struck back.

His Mission Letter to Ashton’s successor, Federica Mogherini, in her capacity of Vice-President of the European Commission, is fascinating: part seduction, part abduction. On the one hand, under Juncker’s new “cluster management” approach, Mogherini is empowered to “guide the work” of the aid, development, enlargement/neighbourhood, and trade commissioners.

Trade? Subject the commission’s most powerful fiefdom to the “guidance” of the foreign policy vice-president? If this can be made to stick in practice, then Juncker has substantially strengthened the hand of the European Union’s foreign policy chief.

But Juncker is also moving Mogherini back into the Berlaymont – the commission’s HQ, perceived by Europhobes as the Black Tower of federalism. “Following your suggestion”, he is careful to say. And he is solicitously undertaking to provide her cabinet, or inner circle of advisers – “about half of which will be Commission officials”. Ashton of course went just the other way, moving out of the Berlaymont into the new HQ of the European External Action Service.

Who sits where is profoundly symbolic in Brussels. The External Action Service will feel orphaned and marginalised by this move. Mogherini will have to work all the harder to convince the member states that this is about her getting a grip on the commission rather than the commission capturing her.

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