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Address by David O'Sullivan to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, Dublin, 12 October 2011
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"Setting up the EEAS – Part II"

Address by David O'Sullivan,

Chief Operating Officer, European External ActionService,

to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade,

Dublin, 12 October 2011

David O'Sullivan, Chief Operating Officer, European External Action

Scene setter

Events in the first decade of the millennium have shaken the foundations of the global order: the tragedy of September 11th 2011, and perhaps more importantly the legacy of September 15th 2008, among others, has triggered a tectonic shift in world politics. The pre-eminence of America is no longer assured, but nor can we say that China or another rising power will take its place. The Euro crisis has also created a sense of fragility about Europe’s place in the world.

In this increasingly competitive and uncertain world we risk losing influence –both as individual countries and as a group, unless we can act more coherently, both internally and externally. The new geo-political landscape is characterised by power shifts and global realignments, a process which the recent economic and financial crisis has accelerated. We can face the gale force winds of change alone, or we can seek strength in numbers.

I tend to see these challenges as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves, and to leapfrog into new areas. Eurozone governance is the obvious case, but foreign and security policy is another area where we have an opportunity to redefine the way we work with our partners—and with each other. This is not about idealism, but about sheer pragmatism: in the current budgetary context, we need cost-effective solutions, which the EU can deliver. And we can’t expect the US to pull our chestnuts out of the fire in the future. We need to provide leadership ourselves. That will not be without its challenges. In particular, it is not easy to pursue an EU foreign policy against the background of financial turmoil in the Eurozone. The sooner we are seen to have turned a corner, the easier it will be for Europe to project itself globally as a force to be reckoned with. As President Van Rompuy told this audience we are confident that with effort, time and support the three countries under EU-IMF programs, including Ireland, will be able to turn the corner.

Setting up the EEAS

The Lisbon Treaty created the legal basis for more joined-up EU foreign policy through the creation of the HR/VP, supported by an embryonic diplomatic service –the EEAS. The Decision of July 2010 gave us the basic parameters of the new service, but it didn’t spell out in detail how to go about doing it; we’ve had to fill the gaps ourselves. When the EEAS was launched in January we started on a shoestring. But we managed to create a provisional organisational structure in which to put together its constituent bits –three services with different institutional cultures— and to adopt common IT, security and human resources procedures.

In addition, we negotiated a major relocation deal for our Brussels headquarters and launched a major recruitment process.  We received 8830 applications for 181 posts, of which 66 are management posts, either in headquarters or in delegations.  A full 66% of all of these posts have been filled by Member State diplomats, putting us well on the way to having MS diplomats make up 1/3 of the entire EEAS staff by 2013.  I spent the best part of the last 4 months in interview panels!  The best part of the heavy lifting is done. That no “millennium bugs” happened is already a major achievement. But the remaining tasks are the most challenging. 

We have now entered the second stage of setting up the EEAS. We now have to manage our own budget and take effective responsibility for the management of our staff. The challenge now, from an organisational point of view, is to fine-tune the organisation to makes sure we got it right. In some cases, there may be further adjustments to ensure that we match human resources to changing policy needs. We have already anticipated some of these changes by reshuffling staff in headquarters to strengthen the Middle East and North Africa Department, which has coordinated our response to the Arab Spring. The ultimate aim, of course, is to be able to deliver effectively on our policy priorities.

Overall however we run on a fairly tight budget and this poses quite a challenge on the way we operate.

The policy

Last January I outlined Cathy Ashton’s key policy priorities: our neighbourhood, strategic partners and security/crisis management. In a broader perspective, these priorities haven’t changed. But the eruption of the Arab Spring was a watershed for the HR/VP and for the EEAS in particular, as it has tested the readiness and resolve of our young organisation. To better address these challenges we have strengthened our Middle East and North Africa Department and we appointed a special representative for the Southern Mediterranean, who is tasked to respond pro-actively to the developments in our Southern Neighbourhood. It hasn’t been easy: to use a motoring analogy, we’ve had to fix the car while the engine was running.

Yet we’ve risen to the occasion. We have reacted quickly to events and played our institutional role, in support of HRVP Ashton, as both a policy and donor coordinator. Our value-added has focused on democratic transformation and economic development; involvement with civil society and development solidarity, as set out in our offer of a Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity. We are also paying particular attention to the specific needs of each of our Southern neighbours – we can no longer approach every country through the same policy lenses. To start the process, an EU-Tunisia Task Force (TF) has been established. The first meeting took place in Tunis (28-29 September 2011) and spelled out unequivocally the EU and the international community’s support to Tunisia’s transition towards a free democratic and inclusive society. A strong focus was given to the economic transition challenges and opportunities, including concrete actions aiming in particular at assisting the recovery of frozen assets, boosting Foreign Direct Investment and job creation.

We also supported the wider international effort through the use of sanctions against the Gaddafi regime in Libya and the Assad regime in Syria. The set back in New York on the UN Security resolution on Syria is regrettable, but European diplomacy will continue to find ways of exerting the necessary pressure. On Libya, the EEAS has led a diplomatic process which has resulted in a common position on Gaddhafi, as well as recognition for the TNC. We have also taken part in the Contact Group on Libya and the Cairo group (in the latter EEAS is the only European participant). We will remain vigilant, especially in Syria.

Still within the region, Cathy Ashton has been leading a tremendous effort on the Middle East Peace process as was reflected in the UNGA and in particular in the contribution of the EU to the Quartet Statement of 23 September. A meeting of the Quartet will be hosted by the EU in Brussels this weekend, showing Cathy Ashton’s continued lead in this area.  She is also in the lead on the Iranian nuclear issue – not only on behalf of the EU but also China and Russia. In the margins of the UNGA she presided over a meeting of the so-called E3/EU+3, which confirmed unity and determination of the E3/EU+3 framework. There was a clear understanding that Iran has to engage more seriously in discussions on concrete confidence building measures, and, that real progress has to be achieved if another round of talks with Iran should take place.

Even as we reacted to events in the South, we haven’t neglected the Eastern neighbourhood. We have helped Eastern neighbours over the last decades to progress towards democracy and the Eastern Partnership has reinvigorated our support to this region. However, much remains to be done and we have seen some regrettable steps backwards in some countries which are still struggling with the transition toward democracy. We are preoccupied with the case of political prisoners in Belarus and the sentencing of Julia Timoshenko in the Ukraine. How we articulate our relations with these countries will be crucial in months to come.

More generally, the strategic importance of our Eastern Partnership policy was reaffirmed in the Warsaw Summit last week. It highlighted that economic reforms must go hand in hand with true political reforms. All leaders with the exception of Belarus agreed to take the work forward in the years to come on the basis of a roadmap.

The Western Balkans poses a particular challenge in so far as we can help resolve outstanding tensions between Kosovo and Serbia, and more generally in consolidating stability in the rest of the Balkans. We will continue to pay particular attention to Georgia and the South Caucasus.

These two priorities point to the continued significance of our neighbourhood as the most important theme in our external relations, hence the importance of driving forward the implementation of our neighbourhood package set out in the May Communication.

We are also intensifying our relations with Turkey, which is becoming an ever more important partner in foreign policy, especially in the region.

Strategic partners

In addition we have intensified our ties with our strategic partners, whose support and close cooperation is essential if we want to address issues such as security, trade or climate change. The European Council Conclusions on September 2010 tasked HR/VP Ashton to evaluate the prospects of relations with our strategic partners. The driving force of this exercise is to beef up the way we conduct our diplomacy by focusing more on core priorities, seeking greater policy and institutional coherence, and focusing on delivering more results.

The transatlantic relationship is strong, not least due to great relationship between Cathy Ashton and Hillary Clinton. There is lots of good work going on specific issues, including Iran and also for instance on Energy (the EU-US Energy Council in Lisbon as an example). We also have deepened the partnership with China by establishing a strategic dialogue with State Councillor Dai Bingguo and stepping up contacts with the Chinese leadership. We have a broad and busy agenda with Russia that spans all areas of Community competence (trade, mobility, energy) as well as political issues (Ukraine, South Caucasus, Transdnistria). We’ve also just kicked off a reflection at Ministerial level on how to improve political relations with India, Brazil and South Africa.

The only way for Europe to remain influential in the changing global landscape is for the EU to articulate value-added proposals, which our partners increasingly appreciate. The point is not so much having a single voice but passing a single message.

Security and crisis management

Whether in Libya, the Horn of Africa or Afghanistan, people around the world look to Europe to help prevent conflicts and manage crises. And as the US gradually reduces its presence overseas, there is going to be increased pressure for the EU to shoulder a bigger share of the burden in the security field. To this end we need for a more integrated EU crisis response method that brings together humanitarian/disaster relief and crisis management capabilities. This is also linked to peace-building and security policy, particularly conflict prevention, where the EU has developed successful tools such as the CSDP missions – one of them had where Ireland contributed massively and provided the operation commander. Ultimately we want to flesh out the EU’s capacity as a peace-builder through diplomacy, crisis management and development initiatives. Two areas worth drawing attention to would include Afghanistan and the question of piracy off the coast of Somalia, where EU presence will become increasingly important in 2012.

The priorities I have outlined serve to give us guidance. But our work doesn’t end there: the EEAS has also inherited a built-in agenda, which covers virtually every country in the world, and touches on the external aspects of Community policies, from development to energy policy. For example, Africa remains a major focus of our financial and diplomatic efforts.

The politics

Setting up the EEAS also means working with the other institutions to develop joined-up policies. I talked about the changes in institutional politics have changed post-Lisbon in my last address. The biggest change was perhaps learning how to support the HR/VP in her role as FAC Chair, a job previously done by the rotating Presidency. We are doing everything on the FAC from agenda setting to the press conference at the end. Setting the agenda in particular is a crucial task. We have set tentative agendas until mid 2012 through an internal planning process (top down and bottom up in agreement with the HR) something the rotating Presidency used to do. Of course the final agenda is fixed by Cathy Ashton based on her own priorities and on Member States’ advice who can add agenda points in Coreper. This has been a learning experience for us all. Of course, issues raised at the FAC are prepared through Council Working Parties, which we are also chairing.

Our Delegations have also successfully made the transition from Commission to EU Delegations, taking over the Presidency role and working closely with Member States Embassies on the ground. The network of EU Delegations is one of the most precious assets of the service.

We’ve also fine-tuned working arrangements directly with Member States diplomatic services; and we’ve launched a dialogue with the Secretaries-General of Foreign Ministries in order to establish ground rules of cooperation, such as the division of labour on the ground in non-EU countries. 

Finally we have also established clear working arrangements with Commission, including joint policy, programming of EU funds and the management of Delegations.

Conclusion – success stories

The establishment of a common EU diplomatic service is a long-term project. We need time to establish trust and smooth working relations with Member States who feel strongly that foreign affairs are a key part of their sovereign identity, of which the EU is only one (important, but not exclusive) dimension. It would be deeply unfair to judge the overall success of this project on the basis of our first 9 months in office.

Having said that we have achieved some important successes. Let me mention a few:

  • The Balkans, where we have helped maintain stability, diffuse tension and push forward a pro-EU agenda. Our diplomatic efforts are delivering a facilitated dialogue with Serbia and Kosovo and promoting stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Cathy Ashton was instrumental in calling off a controversial referendum on the Bosnian state court and prosecutor. In Kosovo, we have helped dispense justice and provide stability through the EULEX mission, which has handed down over 223 verdicts in a wide range of cases including corruption and organised crime. 
  • The European Neighbourhood - we have fast-tracked EU funds to back up our effort to support democracy, as well as economic and social development. In particular, following an initiative by Cathy Ashton, we facilitated the disbursement of additional money from the EIB and EBRD.  
  • Crisis response, especially Haiti and now Southern Neighbourhood, the EU acts in a more joined up way and for the first time one coordinator of all activity. 
  • Fight against Piracy - through a series of actions off the coast of Somalia, and on land, the EU has helped secure shipping lanes from the threat of piracy which represents a massive and growing threat to commercial shipping, aid delivery and security of Eastern and Southern Africa.  
  • Middle East Peace Process – where there is a new more central role for the EU: we not only payer but definitely also player. Others are looking closely at what we are doing, and want to follow our approach. This represents a dramatic change. We have also continued to work to support Palestinian state-building to the point where they are assessed as having the right institutions in place. We’ve done very important work with the Palestinians and Israelis to open crossings further - some progress there (if not enough).  
  • UN - the adoption of a resolution on 3 May by the United Nations General Assembly was also a success for the EU. This gives the EU the possibility to play a comprehensive role in the UN, all the way to the formal presentation of positions.

To conclude, I will argue that while we continue to put the Eurozone on a more solid footing again, Europe must continue to look outward in support of peace and prosperity. We are defending our values and interest in the world. That is why we are now proposing a partnership with the countries in North Africa and the Middle East. We must also continue to bring together our neighbours in the East, and we must strengthen our relations with strategic partners. 

Last update: 12/10/2011  |Top