German proposal on EEAS a ‘risky business’

Catherine Ashton, European Union foreign affairs chief. Photo by: Vyacheslav Oseledko / © EU

High on the agenda at Friday’s meeting of European Union foreign affairs ministers in Dublin, Ireland — current holder of the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union — is the future of the European External Action Service, which is set for a midterm review this year and an impending change in leadership.

Among the topics expected to be put on the table is a German “nonpaper” proposal, seen by Devex, calling for the “strengthening” of the EEAS. It calls for the multiannual programming for development cooperation to be subject to the “overall authority” of the EU high representative, currently held by Catherine Ashton.

The debate on restructuring EEAS is nothing new. Indeed, the same issues were put on the table back in 2010, when the EU department was being set up. But European nongovernmental organizations are not sold with the idea.

“We believe that the European Commission is the best placed kind of entity in the European Union landscape to continue to ensure that European development policies are focused on development cooperation,” Oxfam International’s Natalia Alonso told Devex.

“EEAS, let’s say, brings the overall perspective on foreign policy, but then the Commission really brings the expertise and the poverty focus to their policies.”

The proposal brings sharply into focus a number of problems, notably expertise. Indeed, Alonso said the department would need to increase its level of expertise on development cooperation.

“It’s difficult to start from scratch in the EEAS on that,” she said.

Another problem is funding, which is also underscored in a CONCORD report launched today. The report notes: “We need EU aid that works for people, not for politics.”

Whether such a proposal will gain traction remains to be seen. However, Alonso, a contributor to the CONCORD report warned that the proposal is a “risky business […] a kind of a Pandora’s box [wherein] you kind of reopen quite a few things at the same time.”

In its report, CONCORD — a European NGO confederation for relief and development — calls for the EEAS to put forward better policy coherence for development objectives. Alonso said the EU has some policies that hinder its development initiatives, including incentivizing biofuel production, which hurt agricultural investments and efforts to ensure food security in developing countries.

CONCORD is also calling for the department to ensure an enabling environment for civil society and the participation of civil society in EU aid programming.

Alonso said Catherine Ashton, who has headed EEAS since its inception, has been really supportive of civil society. According to Alonso, Ashton’s possible departure would bring “certain risks, but also opportunities.”

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.