Documents considered by the Committee on 8th December 2010 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

17 The European External Action Service


(31439) 8029/10




+ ADD 1

Draft Council Decision establishing the Organisation and Functioning of the European External Action Service

Draft Council Decision establishing the Organisation and Functioning of the European External Action Service

Legal baseArticle 27(3) TEU; unanimity, with the consent of the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament
DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of considerationMinister's letter 18 November 2010
Previous Committee Report(a) (31439) 8029/10: HC 5-xvii (2009-10), chapter 1 (7 April 2010)

(b) (31747) 11507/10: HC 428-i (2010-11), chapter 64 (8 September 2010) and HC 428-iv (2010-11), chapter 11 (20 October 2010)

Discussed in Council26 July 2010 Foreign Affairs Council
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionBoth cleared (debated on the Floor of the House on 14 July 2010)


17.1 Prior to the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty, in 1999, the office of High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy had been introduced by the Amsterdam Treaty. Javier Solana occupied that position thereafter. Together with an increasing number of officials in the Council Secretariat, he assisted the Council in foreign policy matters, through contributing to the formulation, preparation and implementation of policy decisions. He acted on behalf of the Council in conducting political dialogue with third parties. The six-monthly rotating Presidency was in charge of chairing the External Relations Council, representing the Union in CFSP matters, implementing the decisions taken and for expressing the EU position internationally.

17.2 Under the Lisbon Treaty, new arrangements came into being. The European Council, acting by a qualified majority, with the agreement of the President of the Commission, appoints the High Representative. He or she is subject, together with the President of the Commission and the other members of the Commission, to a vote of consent by the European Parliament.

17.3 At their informal meeting in Brussels on 19 November 2009, ahead of the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon (TEU) on 1 December 2009, EU Heads of State or Government agreed on the appointment of Baroness Catherine Ashton as the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR).

17.4 The High Representative now exercises, in foreign affairs, the functions which, so far, were exercised by the six-monthly rotating Presidency, the High Representative for CFSP and the Commissioner for External Relations. According to Articles 18 and 27 TEU, the High Representative:

  • conducts the Union's common foreign and security policy;
  • contributes by her proposals to the development of that policy, which she will carry out as mandated by the Council, and ensures implementation of the decisions adopted in this field;
  • presides over the Foreign Affairs Council;
  • as one of the Vice-Presidents of the Commission, ensures the consistency of the Union's external action and is responsible within the Commission for responsibilities incumbent on it in external relations and for coordinating other aspects of the Union's external action;
  • represents the Union for matters relating to the common foreign and security policy, conducts political dialogue with third parties on the Union's behalf and expresses the Union's position in international organisations and at international conferences; and
  • shall be assisted by a European External Action Service.

17.5 Article 27(3) TEU constitutes the legal basis for the Council decision on the organisation and functioning of the EEAS.

    "In fulfilling his mandate, the High Representative shall be assisted by a European External Action Service. This service shall work in cooperation with the diplomatic services of the Member States and shall comprise officials from relevant departments of the General Secretariat of the Council and of the Commission as well as staff seconded from national diplomatic services of the member states. The organisation and functioning of the European External Action Service shall be established by a decision of the Council. The Council shall act on a proposal from the High Representative after consulting the European Parliament and after obtaining the consent of the Commission."

17.6 The previous and present Committee's consideration of the process thus far is set out in their and our previous Reports.[82] As noted therein:

—  between the first and second versions, though only entitled to be consulted on the Council Decision on the establishment of the EEAS, the European Parliament (EP) sought to take advantage of its co-decision rights on the accompanying measures in order to seek effective de facto co-decision rights on the Council Decision;

—  the outcome nominally favoured the Council and Member States rather than the EP; but

—  the Council Decision was now accompanied by four non-legally-binding texts;

—  the most important of these was the Declaration on Political Accountability (the others being a Statement to be given by the High Representative in the plenary of the EP on the basic organisation of the EEAS central administration; a Statement of the High Representative on CSDP structures; and a Declaration of the High Representative with regard to the appointment procedure she intended to apply in the EEAS).

17.7 Given that the EP had voted in favour of this package on 8 July, Member States wished to finalise the matter at the 26 July General Affairs Council. So the Government submitted both the first (agreed by the Council in April) and the second Decisions and the accompanying measures for debate on the Floor of the House on 14 July. At the end of that debate, the House resolved:

    "That this House takes note of European Document Nos. 8029/10 and 11507/10, draft Council Decisions establishing the organisation and functioning of the European External Action Service; European Document No. 8134/10, draft Regulation on the Financial Regulations for the European External Action Service; and an unnumbered draft Regulation amending Staff Regulations of officials of the European Communities and the conditions of employment of other servants of those Communities; and supports the Government's policy to agree to the Decision establishing the External Action Service at the Foreign Affairs Council in July 2010."[83]

Our previous assessment

17.8 When we first considered these developments on 8 September, we noted that, had the Committee been in existence at the time, we would both have confirmed our predecessors' recommendation regarding the first draft of the Council Decision and also recommended that the revised version be debated on the floor of the House. Had we been able to do so, we would also have noted that the arrangements set out in Article 8 —which are central to the main rationale of the EEAS, i.e., the greater effectiveness of the EU's external action and the billions of euros involved — were still no more reassuring than in the original text, especially given the Minister for Europe's (Mr David Lidington) statement that: "How this set up will work in practice remains to be seen."

17.9 Also, with regard to the significance of the Declaration on Political Accountability, we noted that the Minister had been silent about it in both his Explanatory Memorandum and his accompanying letter; and that during the debate had said only that: "Declarations are not legally binding. They are statements that provide a political context for a Council decision and how it will operate as it is taken forward". The Committee noted that the first sentence is self-evident, and the second ambiguous; pointed out that the EP had made it plain its belief that, under these arrangements, it would have greater oversight of EU external action (otherwise, we felt, what would be the point of its negotiating such a Declaration?); and asked some questions about the significance of this Declaration and various points in the agreement between the HR, Presidency, Commission and EP representatives, based on the notion that, in the final analysis, CFSP activity depends upon the level of funding and who controls it.

17.10 We said that we would also have noted that something else that remained to be seen too was the extent to which the establishment and operation of the EEAS was able to conform to "the principle of cost-efficiency aiming towards budget neutrality."

17.11 The debate notwithstanding, we hoped that, between now and the review in 2013, the Minister would take every opportunity to see to it that (as he put it) "unnecessary duplication of tasks, functions and resources with other structures [are] avoided [and] all opportunities for rationalisation [are] used", and to ensure that mechanisms are devised that are able properly to assess the effectiveness of the arrangements that will now be put in place governing the planning and implementation of the EU's external action.

17.12 We also asked to know under what authority the HR had negotiated this Declaration, and the extent to which Member States were involved in its drafting.[84]

The Minister's previous letter of 24 September 2010

17.13 The Minister for Europe began by saying that he shared the Committee's concern that it was not yet fully clear how the effectiveness of EU development spending will be guaranteed by the structure of the EEAS. He believed that, on balance, the text of the Decision agreed in July was an improvement on the original April 2010 draft. He did not yet have information regarding how many staff will work on development programming in the final structure of the EEAS. However, he had raised his concern with Baroness Ashton that the information so far received regarding the structure of EEAS headquarters had to date included no reference to who would take on responsibility for this important work; the same uncertainty still applied to other important areas such as crisis management. The Minister undertook to update the Committee as soon as he obtained reliable information in this regard. The picture was likely to become clearer after Baroness Ashton had put in place her top team and clarified the division of portfolios — a process that he said she aimed to complete by November.

17.14 The Minister then said that the budget was another area of concern. Noting that Member States having agreed an additional uplift to the EU budget of €9.5 million to fund the establishment of the EEAS in 2010, the Minister drew attention to an Amending Letter to its draft EU budget for 2011 published by the Commission on 15 September, asking for an additional €34.4 million, explained as follows:

    "EUR 29,2 million requested as additional appropriations in relation to the full-year cost of the new human resources (100 new AD posts, 60 local agents in delegations and 10 contract agents at headquarters) requested in draft amending budget 6/2010, and EUR 5,2 million requested for 18 additional posts and strengthened security of the EEAS definitive premises in 2011."

17.15 The Minister said that, as the Committee had pointed out, the Council Decision establishing the EEAS provided for the aim of budget neutrality. He was "pressing hard for this." Noting that the High Representative had committed to seek efficiency savings of at least 10%, and that this commitment was repeated in the amending letter for 2011, he recalled that the amending letter also said that:

    "The establishment of the EEAS has to be guided by the principles of cost-efficiency, budget neutrality, and sound and efficient management, also taking into account the impact of the current economic crisis on national public finances and the required efforts for fiscal consolidation."

17.16 The Minister said that he had "urged the High Representative to be both more ambitious and more precise", and that:

    "Officials are analysing the amending letter carefully, identifying opportunities to seek savings during negotiations in the coming weeks. We have requested a specific plan showing how the savings will be found between now and 2013, for example through eliminating duplication of activity by the Commission and Council Secretariat units transferring into the EEAS. We will pursue this as part of negotiations on the EU budget for 2011 (including the EAS), which are due to be finalised in mid-November. We are also seeking allies amongst other member states to support us on this point."

17.17 With regard to the High Representative's Declaration on Political Accountability, the Minister said:

    "The Declaration is not legally binding. Nor does it confer greater power on the European Parliament. It was negotiated under the personal authority of the High Representative, largely as a response to issues raised by the European Parliament. COREPER was given the opportunity to comment on the declarations in draft, but the High Representative reserved the right to decide on the final wording herself. As you rightly note, the European Parliament was able to exert some leverage over the EEAS Decision due to its control over the budget. The High Representative therefore had to go some way to responding to the European Parliament's concerns without conceding too much on key issues of principle embodied in the text of the EEAS Decision. This Government urged the High Representative to stand firm in her negotiations with the Parliament and we will continue to do so in the months ahead.

17.18 Regarding the CFSP budget, the Minister said:

    "the declaration sets out a change in how spending through the CFSP budget, which includes civilian CSDP missions, is presented to the European Parliament rather than a substantive change in budgetary practice. The UK supports increased transparency for all EU funding for projects around the world. The Government will continue to push for more realistic estimates of expenditure and improved prioritisation in line with best budgetary practice. In particular, we continue to challenge the Commission and CSDP missions on the rationale and justification for new items of expenditure."

Our assessment

17.19 We felt that, though the Minister's response addressed our concerns as far as was possible at that juncture, major uncertainties continued to obtain.

17.20 First, about how the effectiveness of EU development spending would be guaranteed by the structure of the EEAS, and "other important areas such as crisis management". We looked forward to receiving his promised further update, once he had obtained "reliable information in this regard."

17.21 Secondly, the threats to the "principle of cost-efficiency aiming towards budget neutrality" embodied in the European Council's original guidelines and in the Council Decision establishing the EEAS. With that in mind, we drew attention to the passage on this issue during the debate on the Floor of the House on 13 October 2010 on the draft EU Budget for 2011. There, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Justine Greening) provided further information about the proposed increase in the EEAS budget for 2011 and noted what she described as "unhelpful suggestions from the Commission in the future that additional spending at EU level could be offset by savings in member states' diplomatic services", which suggestions were "completely unacceptable to the UK." She also noted that the Government has "pushed, thus far successfully, for the Council to state on the record that the term 'budget neutrality' for the EEAS applies solely to the context of the EU budget" in order to counter the Commission's suggestions. We asked the Minister for Europe to keep the Committee informed about the Government's endeavours, —which we endorsed — and in particular if, and when, a Council statement on this matter was issued.

The Minister for Europe's letter of 18 November 2010

17.22 The Minister begins by agreeing with the Committee's assessment that major uncertainties continue to obtain. However, he says, some progress has been made, which he sets out as follows:

    "The High Representative has since your letter appointed Pierre Vimont as Secretary General of the European External Action Service, and David O'Sullivan as the Chief Operating Officer. She also appointed the two Deputy Secretaries General: Helga Schmid, for political affairs; and Maciej Popowski, for inter-institutional affairs. The appointment of a Secretary General will allow the EAS to make progress on defining its objectives. We expect the appointment of the six Managing Directors shortly. We will be working closely with all of these officials, as well as the High Representative to maximize our influence on the direction of their work, setting out the areas where we would like to see the EAS focusing its efforts, harnessing EU resources to achieve improved outcomes. These include crisis management and development programming, as you say.

    "We want to see the EAS focus on the neighbourhood, on strategic relationships with emerging powers such as China and India, on the external aspects of internal policies such as energy and climate change, and on important foreign policy priorities like Iran, Gaza and Sudan. We also want the EAS to retain a clear focus on poverty eradication, in line with the UK's overseas aid commitments. At a recent informal development ministerial meeting we reminded the High Representative that we want to see a development focus built into the EAS. All of this will inevitably take some time to set out in detail. In the meantime we will continue to stress the importance of improving the impact, effectiveness and value for money of crisis management operations and other development work. This includes working to change the practices of the Brussels structures that manage and set the direction for missions, but also on the detail of specific operations. In relation to the establishment of the EAS, the UK has argued for the remainder of the Commission development services to be merged into one department. This will cut duplication and cost. I am pleased that the Commission announced recently that it will go ahead with this merger.

    "Regarding budget neutrality, we lobbied hard in Brussels and EU capitals to contain the amending budget for the EAS for 2011, and to ensure that it was accompanied by an acceptable definition of budget neutrality.

    "We were satisfied that, following our lobbying, the uplift for 2011 requested was less than half originally trailed in the summer, and in budget committee negotiations we succeeded in shaving an additional €6m from the existing spending being transferred into the EAS budget. We also ensured that the Amending Letter was accompanied by a Council declaration defining budget neutrality in the context of EU spending only, recalling that the choice of premises for the EAS must be a part of this, and calling for a plan for how to achieve efficiency savings to be drawn up as a priority, and then subject to regular review. …… We intend that the new Chief Operating Officer should set out these saving plans as a priority task now that he has been appointed. There has been significant press coverage of the decision to move the EAS Headquarters into the AXA building at a cost of €12m per year. We have been told that this represents a substantial saving on current arrangements, whereby the staff are housed across 8 separate buildings at a combined cost of €25m per year, but we will probe into the detail of these figures to ascertain whether or not this assessment is accurate. We will continue to press for austerity in the EAS, and across the European administration."


17.23 We are grateful to the Minister for this further information, which we are again reporting to the House because of the widespread interest in the new European External Action Service.

17.24 It is now several months since the scrutiny process was completed. The Minister has set out clearly what he regards as his achievements thus far and his goals for the future. We think that the time has now come for interested Members to take these matters forward in other ways.

17.25 With that in mind, we are also drawing this chapter of our Report to the attention of the International Development and Foreign Affairs Committees.

82   See headnote. Back

83   The text of the debate is available at


84   See (31747) 11507/10: HC 428-i (2010-11), chapter 64 (8 September 2010). Back

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