External Action Service

A good chunk of the Brussels press corps is in Berlin this week for an annual trip by foreign media to meet German government leaders. On Tuesday morning this included a session with Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, where he vociferously defended the embattled Cathy Ashton.

Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, has come under surprisingly public attack recently for her handling of the north Africa crisis, particularly from Belgium’s foreign minister Steven Vanackere, who made a rare public rebuke of her performance last month in a Belgian newspaper interview.

But Westerwelle insisted Berlin, at least, was on her side. “Germany and myself, we will support Cathy Ashton,” he told the motley group of Brussels-based journalists who had assembled at the foreign ministry. “She has our full support and especially my personal support.” Read more

With Libya at risk of becoming the latest North African country to be destabilised by a popular uprising, the European Union’s diplomatic service faces a problem: Tripoli has long been the only capital in Europe’s neighbourhood without an EU diplomatic representation.

Sources in the diplomatic service say that is about to change.

The European Union is to open a representative office in Libya as part of its burgeoning European External Action Service network, they say.

Tripoli has been a gaping hole in EU diplomacy thus far, the only country in the European neighbourhood where its diplomatic service doesn’t have a baseRead more

Any day now the advertisements should go out for the top jobs in Brussels’ new diplomatic service – the European External Action Service, as it will be boringly known.

If the optimists are right, the service will be anything but boring. It’s the most important single invention to come out of the Lisbon treaty, say the true believers. It will give the European Union the eyes and ears to forge a genuine foreign policy, and the voice to put it into effect.

On the other hand, eurosceptics are convinced it will just be a vast and expensive new bureaucracy, merely duplicating the role of national embassies. So the battle to keep its wings clipped may also be anything but boring.

The 27 member states sit somewhere in the middle – not quite sure they believe in what they are creating, wanting to keep it under control, and no doubt trying to do it all on a shoe-string. In the end, their attitude will determine if it’s a success or a failure. Read more