EEAS review and development: Yet another EU coordination challenge?

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      The review of the European External Action Service (EEAS) is in full swing – on June 12th the European Parliament (EP) presented its inputs on the organisation and functioning of the service, which is just over 2 years old. The reply from EU High Representative Catherine Ashton gives some hints on the content of the report, which will eventually to be submitted to the Council, and is expected by summer 2013. ECDPM has also discussed the potential politics of the review process scope in their previous paper ‘Gearing up for the 2013 EEAS Review’The report, Ashton noted, will focus on three main elements: the Neighbourhood (the EU 16 closest neighbours in the south and in the east), the ‘comprehensive approach’, and exploiting the EU’s ‘critical mass’ – e.g. achieve collectively what the member states cannot individually, such as handling the Iran nuclear file. A mix of short-term solutions and medium-term adjustments will be put on the table, but the review cannot avoid tackling a number of criticisms, notably working with the Commission.

      Is working together key?

      The search for synergies between the EEAS and the Commission was indeed emphasised by MEP Elmar Brok who led the work on the report together with the co-rapporteur, MEP Roberto GualtieriThe key question is therefore: has the EEAS brought added value or is it simply another voice in the EU’s external action? The EEAS is in fact expected to be the ‘one-stop-shop’ for the EU’s partners and the one platform to promote the values, interests, and visibility of the EU, as Ashton said in May 2011. But since its inception the number of actors involved in EU’s external action has increased.

      Working arrangements for development programming

      Development is a case in point. The EP report emphasises strengthening the role of the EEAS in defining the strategic orientation of external financing instruments, to ensure coherence between foreign and development policy objectives. Prior to the Lisbon Treaty, the European Commission was in charge of programming the EU institutions’ development aid. Then the 2010 Council decision establishing the EEAS gave the EU diplomatic service the responsibility, together with the Commission, for preparing programming documents of development cooperation instruments (European Development Fund, Development Cooperation Instrument, European Neighbourhood Instrument, to name the main ones). This has provoked suspicion, in development circles, of a ‘politicisation’ of aid since the EEAS has a say on the priorities and allocations of EU development money. At present the management of the development instruments remains with the Commission’s DG DEVCO, which retains a number of responsibilities and indeed receives additional ones in programming as ECDPM noted in previous works. Inter-service working arrangements – eventually agreed in January 2012 – clarify that DEVCO leads on thematic programming, whereas the EEAS leads on geographic (country and regional) programming. But who has the final say on where and what the money is spent: the Commissioner for Development or the High Representative? Programming should be conducted under the overall responsibility of the Commissioner, yet the EEAS has to heed to the priorities issued from its own hierarchy. Indeed it is well known that there have been tensions between the very top levels of the EEAS and DEVCO. The latter wants a stricter adherence to the detail of the new “Agenda for Change” in choosing the number and types of sectors for development assistance; and the former calls for more flexibility, but also promotes listening to the wishes of partner countries. Programming risks being caught in an EU turf war between the two bodies, turning into a EU-centred exercise much to the chagrin of those wishing to see the implementation of the Busan aid effectiveness commitments to better align aid to the partner country’s priorities and the partnership principles of the EU-ACP Cotonou Agreement. There are some hints that efforts to achieve synchronisation with the recipient’s programming cycle – a requirement of the EDF and DCI guidelines – are being made but ultimately the decision of the priorities for development spending is a political one. 

      And the member states?

      In times of austerity member states face the domestic pressure of showing ‘value for money’ and are therefore quite protective of national initiatives, including in development cooperation. For instance the early experiences of joint programming of the EU institutions and member states’ development assistance – while strongly supported by some member states – show that concerns of national visibility are still there. At the same time requests for more inter-institutional synergies are frequently voiced including by some member states in their own non-papers on the EEAS review. Yet these calls often hide the member states’ own unwillingness to accept a more coordinating – and potentially leading – role of the EEAS. Another often-heard coordination challenge is due to the rotating EU presidency chairing of some working groups in the Council, including the Committee on Development (CODEV) and the Africa Caribbean and Pacific Working Party. Here the question is who has the power to set the agenda, the EEAS or the member state holding the Presidency? The overall EP recommendation is intentionally ambiguous, calling for a ‘coherent approach’ and the end of the rotating presidency for some working groups but failing to name specific ones. Yet it is worth noting that, in its opinion, the EP’s DEVE Committee was against any changes in the chairmanship of the working groups on development and ACP. The EEAS is likely to want to chair CODEV, since for both political and administrative reasons it could well believe in the longer-run it will make life easier for the service in preparing the Foreign Affairs Council that deals with development.

      What can the EEAS review do?

      At the end of the day the performance of the EEAS depends a lot on the support (or foot-dragging) of the member states and Commission alike. The idea that the Review alone will fundamentally revise the relationship between the EEAS, the Commission and member states is fanciful at best. Some greater clarity on who is really in the driving seat for the strategy and direction of EU development would however be welcome provided that development principles are respected. The political ability to drive through wholesale and fundamental changes of the division of responsibilities between the EEAS and the Commission and member states would seem to be limited.  But that doesn’t mean that interesting things can’t be done. Overall reducing the gap between policy and implementation: this is what the EEAS review should be about delivering – but its success in this area is not in the gift of the Service alone. ——————————————– Greta Galeazzi is a Research Assistant on ECDPM's EU External Action Programme.   This blog post features the authors personal views and does not represent the view of ECDPM.
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