27 Jan 2012

The European External Action Service One Year On: First signs of strengths and weaknesses

Steven Blockmans

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Published as CLEER Working Paper 2012/2, by the Centre for the Law of EU External Relations, this paper was contributed by Steven Blockmans, Senior Research Fellow at CEPS and head of the Foreign Policy Research unit.

One year after the official launch of the European External Action Service (EEAS), the first phase in setting up the bureaucratic structure of the European Union’s new diplomatic service has been completed. The EEAS brings together different strands of the Union’s external policies and has changed the way the EU conducts foreign policy. The EEAS has been learning by doing, in response to, e.g., revolutionary change brought about by the Arab Spring, humanitarian crises in Pakistan and Japan, backsliding on the rule of law in Belarus and Ukraine, threats posed by piracy and famine in the Horn of Africa, and much more, all in the face of a financial crisis that has imposed severe pressure on Member States’ governments and tested the limits of European solidarity. Slowly but surely, the Service has been taking a more pro-active stance to foreign policy-making by starting to develop regional and thematic strategies (e.g. for the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, and on human rights and democracy) and coordinating positions and policies of the Member States (e.g. on Palestine’s application for UN membership and joint development programming). Arguably, it is early days to draw firm conclusions on the functioning of the EEAS. The future shape of the Service and the external policies it crafts are likely to be determined by decisions made over the coming years. The devil is in the detail. Nevertheless, the EEAS is already showing the first signs of its strengths and weaknesses.

This paper presents an assessment of the first year of activities of the EEAS. The findings are based on a series of 50 interviews conducted in the period from September to December 2011 with a cross-section of EU officials (working for the EEAS (headquarters and EU Delegations), the Council’s General Secretariat, external policy DGs of the Commission and the European Parliament), civil servants at permanent representations of Member States to the EU, academics, and representatives from think tanks and civil society.

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