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EU Diplomatic Corps – spiralling costs and spin

Civitas, 22 September 2010

There is growing concern over the cost of the EU’s External Action Service (EEAS) after the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs requested more funding to finance its budget, writes Natalie Hamill. Baroness Ashton’s demand for an 8% increase in funding for the EEAS, which is still in its fledgling stages of development, suggests that the aspiration for it to be ‘budget neutral’ (meaning that its funding would present no extra cost to the taxpayer) was only a pipedream.

With the global economic downturn currently forcing national governments to implement far-reaching and vastly unpopular budget cuts to straighten out their own finances, Baroness Ashton’s attempt to secure extra funds for the EEAS is a bitter pill to swallow for Member States. So far, the cost of the EEAS has reached £399 million (£29 million more than the original target), and it still has a long way to go before the Service is operational. Of the 8% increase requested by Ashton, £24.6 million will go on Eurocrat wages and £4.4 million on the upgrade of buildings. The second figure is particularly disheartening as the headquarters of the new Service have yet to be chosen! (After several months of talks examining suitable buildings, of which security and image were vital concerns, Baroness Ashton now looks more likely to plump for the Lex building, owned by the European Council, and likely to be cheaper to rent.)

The EEAS was established under the Lisbon Treaty (although only in the most skeletal of forms) and the EU hopes that its new Service, once established, will be the beating heart of the EU’s new-look foreign relations. The EEAS is Baroness Ashton’s undesirable responsibility; she must ‘flesh out’ the workings of the Service whilst simultaneously placating the 27 Member States that are vying for their citizens to gain influential positions. The new Foreign Relations Chief has already had to face criticism this month, after it emerged that only 11 of the 115 ambassador positions had been filled by women, and eastern European states were also particularly under-represented. MEPs suggested that, ‘Ashton broke her commitment to ensure gender and geographical balance.’

The past year has seen the EEAS face a number of teething problems and disagreements over which individuals should be appointed to top position, and how much funding they will have. Therefore, whilst December 2010 was set as the EEAS’s original launch date (the first anniversary of the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty), it will likely be well into the New Year before the Diplomatic Corps is finally unveiled.

Ashton’s apparent failure to secure budget neutrality will be another blow to her popularity, especially amongst Member States that see her position as meaningless and adding to confusion about who ‘leads’ Europe.

A spokesperson for Baroness Ashton told the Telegraph that she does want ‘10 per cent efficiency savings for the service but for now there is some startup cost. Budget neutrality is a very clear commitment.’ I hope, for her sake, that she’s right. Member States, whose own diplomatic powers will be impinged upon by the EEAS, will not greet its increased costs warmly. If Baroness Ashton wants to keep national governments on side, not only will she have to work harder to delicately juggle key appointments (the next round are to be announced in November), but she must also deliver on her promise to establish a service that is budget neutral.


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