Greater EU harmony with foreign service, says diplomat

EU Observer (Link) - Andrew Willis (September 21, 2009)

An EU diplomatic service would greatly help the bloc define more unified positions when dealing with external countries says the European Commission's top representative in China.

Ambassador Serge Abou also sees future EU ambassadors becoming "primus inter pares [first among equals]" in areas of EU competence, when compared to member state diplomats working overseas.

"Their role will not be to represent the view of France, Germany or Spain but to represent the views of all of us [27 member states]," the Frenchman with over 35 years experience working in the European Commission told EUobserver in a recent interview.

The commission currently has over 150 delegations overseas, primarily dealing with issues where member states have handed authority over to the Brussels-based institution.

Dealing with trade policy issues, assisting in the fight against counterfeiting and monitoring the development of China's competition policy are among the issues currently dealt with by Mr Abou's office.

The delegation also works on implementing co-operation projects in order to help harmonize legislation and standards between the two sides, as well as monitoring the dozens of "sectoral policy dialogues" between the Brussels commission headquarters and the Chinese Government.

However, ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in every member state would see the delegations upgraded in importance into a European External Action Service, supporting the work of a High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy.

This new EU "foreign minister" would combine the roles of the commissioner for external relations, currently held by Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and the foreign policy post currently held by Javier Solana.

The creation of this new position would intensify policy discussions between the commission and the member states, leading to more unified positions on political events says Mr Abou.

"If the competences [held by Ms Waldner and Mr Solana] are enlarged and unified, there will be a need for more common approaches and more reflection," he says.

"We will have in Brussels, services whose everyday work will be to define the common views and the common stand of European diplomacy ... That will be a very important engine to make more and more harmonious the analysis, the views and the actions of our member states."

Never stuck for an embassy

Mr Abou says a EU diplomatic service would have other advantages, including an increase in the number of embassies available to EU citizens living or traveling abroad.

"There are many countries, probably more than 100, where none of the member states have an embassy," he points out, with the number rising significantly for smaller member states with limited resources.

With a new network of EU embassies however, EU citizens would have greater access to diplomatic services overseas, while in cities such as Washington, where member states are well represented, the EU embassies would "help defend and express the common positions developed in Brussels."

"That will, in my view, replace the system of rotating presidencies in terms of representation," says Mr Abou.