As EEAS turns 1, criticism remains

European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton. Photo by: EU

Is the European Union’s foreign affairs arm really like a “car being driven during the day, and fixed at night — in the dark”?

That’s how one Brussels official described the year-old European External Action Service in a conversation with Concord, the leading coalition of EU-based relief and development nongovernmental organizations.

Concord has released a report on the controversial external action service a year after it was formally launched to oversee EU relations overseas. The report notes some high points — especially the elevation of development cooperation on EEAS’s corporate board, EEAS chief Catherine Ashton’s annual exchange with the European Parliament on foreign aid, and the creation of the Directorate General for Development and Cooperation — EuropeAid, or DG DEVCO.

But massive challenges remain to improving aid coordination and effectiveness, the group says. Most importantly, the group suggests that without a clear, “integrated vision” for EU foreign affairs that incorporates development, diplomacy and defense, and a formal memorandum of understanding between DG DEVCO and EEAS, the two institutions will continue to engage in a turf war — what Concord calls the “prevailing wind of competition rather than cooperation.”

The group concludes: “A more informed view on the interaction between long term development and security issues inside the EEAS may help shape the external consistency which the EU is trying to achieve with the EEAS, without impeding the distinct responsibility of the Development Commissioner and DEVCO.”

Also needed are clear guidelines for engaging with third parties, particularly civil society groups, which have been largely unclear if at all existent, Concord said, putting NGO staff who want to engage with EEAS in limbo as to who to turn to.

EU member concerns

Criticism has haunted EEAS from the very beginning — and in fact before that, when Concord temporarily threatened to sue the EU for subordinating international development to political and security concerns. Last month, 11 European foreign ministers blasted EEAS’s bureaucracy and management in a letter seen by the EU Observer, prompting a Dec. 22 response by Ashton.

But, as the EU Observer notes, these challenges have already contributed to “around 60 EEAS staff [leaving] their posts amid frustration that they do not have the basic tools for their job.”

Meanwhile, ambassadors have been forced to monitor commission spending despite not having decision-making power over it.

The way forward

Concord suggests the following steps to address the EU’s challenges:

  • Craft a narrative on EU development cooperation and its relation with human rights and security policies.

  • Recognize the need for all EU policies, both internal and external, to be consistent with the bloc’s development policy, as per current law.

  • Work with DG DEVCO on a training plan to introduce new staff members to the concept of a rights-based approach to development, policy coherence, aid effectiveness and the EU’s partnership with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

  • Develop a policy that will allow easier staff rotation between EEAS and DG DEVCO whenever necessary.

  • Better finance EU delegations to ensure speed and consistency of aid disbursements.

  • Engage more actively with civil society, NGOs and other stakeholders.

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About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.