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EU Global Strategy blog series: Towards a European external human resources management system

07-10-2016

Helly, D. 2016. EU Global Strategy blog series: Towards a European External Human Resources Management System. ECDPM Talking Points blog, 7 October 2016.

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In the second of a series of three blog posts (see the first blog) ahead of the publication of the implementation plan of the EU’s Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy, ECDPM’s Damien Helly sets out four principles for making the strategy a credible compass, and calls for a European External Human Resources Management System to allow European governments to reach a critical mass for their respective workforces to seriously and sustainably participate on the global stage.

Last week, I argued that the EU has far too many diplomats doing the same things and that their human resources could, and should, be managed in a much more rational way. This week, I consider what European governments can do to make the best use of the EU diplomatic potential at all levels, and how to foster European thematic expertise in collective external action.

Having a large number of staff abroad does not necessarily mean that Europeans are adequately organised to implement the EU Global Strategy (EUGS). Effective implementation also requires a clear vision to optimise human resources management in EU external action. This vision should pivot around two main priorities: the commitment of a core group of EU Member States to some key principles and the launch of a coordination system for EU institutions to connect bureaucratic silos.


Four key principles for making the EUGS a credible compass


Firstly, real member state ownership of the EUGS is needed to effectively implement it. So far, the EUGS has only been “welcomed” by the European Council, but the depth of Member States’ commitment is unclear. While European Commission President Juncker publicly committed the institution to implementing the strategy in his 2016 letter of intent, no other country or institution has truly bound itself to implementing the strategy. Without a stronger legal basis, human resources administrations in the EU will not be obliged to optimise their staffing systems.

Secondly, all those who want to deliver on the EUGS will have to give equal priority to EU sub-strategies (for instance those described in the EUGS implementation roadmap) and national foreign policy strategies. It will be the responsibility of staff from national, EU and civil society to seek consistency between EU and national ambitions.

The third principle will be to search for efficiency in talent management to deal with the complexity of global challenges. Like-minded governments, administrations and citizens have the option to strengthen a variety of networks of staff across Member States and EU institutions. For instance, this could be done among staff working on the same issues and topics, to create possibilities for better staff circulation across EU and national bodies. A seconded national expert in migration could, for example, engage in a network of migration experts with, to name but a few, Commission’s civil servants from DG Home, contractual agents based in the Sahel or the Horn of Africa, the FRONTEX agency and police forces or border guards busy with setting up the new European border guard agency.

The fourth and last principle regards upbeat communication campaigns on the implementation of the EUGS. These should take place in Member States, in Brussels and abroad and can be an essential vehicle for Europeans to embark other colleagues in the EUGS venture. Some have already started with public debates, but much more will need to be done to inform policy makers and citizens about the real change potential of the EUGS. Member States will bear special responsibility in that realm and should start developing tailored communication strategies towards their own staff, at home and overseas.


Taking steps towards coordination within EU institutions


On the EU level, a lot remains to be done to encourage staff mobility and circulation, but discussions are already taking place. What we know up until now is that the main coordination body will be the External Relations Group of Commissioners (RELEX) coordinated by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Commission Vice President Federica Mogherini.

It is in this group (and their related administrations), together with the Secretary General of the Commission, the Human Resources Directorate General (DG), and external relations DGs (Trade, NEAR, DEVCO, ENLARG) and the European External Action Service, that the main directions of a modernised and globalised Human Resources Management can be defined.

This first step towards coordination, taken along the lines of the principles highlighted above, will be crucial in the reinvention of European external action staff’s careers, objectives and ways of working. The RELEX group will have to ensure the right balance in human resources policies in order for staff to be able to contribute to both, internal and external EU policies, without creating inequalities and building walls between these two types of careers.


A European External Human Resources Management System


The RELEX Group of Commissioners will also have to liaise closely with Member States’ foreign affairs structures, as well as with the European Parliament. The RELEX Group will be able to count on their contributions as part of a wider and more efficient system of European External Human Resources Management. Only a modernised, web-based, light, unbureaucratic and interconnected system will allow European governments to reach a critical mass for their respective workforces to seriously and sustainably participate on the global stage.

By engaging along the four key principles to implement the EUGS outlined above, European policy makers have all the means to debate the idea of, and to set up a coordinated European External Human Resources Management System.

In the beginning, it is not likely that all Member States would be on board, but what matters is to have a committed core group ready to initiate pilot initiatives, that would then convince others. They do not need a new Treaty or new Council Conclusions. Coordination is in line with the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty and would contribute to strengthening the ability of Member States to promote their interests in the world.

If enough Europeans endorse the idea of a collective human resources management system for external action, they could start addressing a few key longer-term structural human resources management challenges. I will analyse this in my next blog.


The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of ECDPM.

Photo courtesy of European External Action Service via Flickr

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