In the run-up to the mid-term review of the European External Action Service (EEAS), ISIS Europe attended the policy dialogue organised by the European Policy Centre (EPC), in partnership with the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) on: ‘Preparing for the mid-term review of the EEAS: Priorities, challenges and prospects for EU foreign policy at a time of crisis’. The event was opened and introduced by Rosa Balfour, EPC Senior Policy Analyst, and the panel was composed of David O’Sullivan, Chief Operating Officer at the EEAS, Poul Skytte Christoffersen, Ambassador of Denmark to Belgium and former Advisor to the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Hanna Ojanen from the FIIA, and Graham Avery, EPC Senior Advisor and Honorary Director-General of the European Commission.
The European External Action Service saw light on 1st December 2010, after years of complicated negotiations and delays. Under close scrutiny of other institutions, organisations and analysts since its inception, the EEAS’s first mid-term review is expected to be completed by July 2013, and will, hopefully, raise important questions and provide useful answers for the improvement of the service’s functioning. Panellists all highlighted the huge potential of the EEAS, especially in its attempts to provide a cross-cutting approach to international politics in an increasingly globalized context. According to David O’Sullivan, the EEAS faces two big challenges, and its ‘success’ will be depending on its ability to cope with them. First, he refers to the difficulty of ‘cross-fertilisation’ of the different diplomatic cultures that compose it. Second, he mentions the issue of properly integrating the external dimensions of internal policies, as in the cases of energy or financial regulations, to name but a few. As defining what constitutes ‘success’ in the field of foreign policy can be widely debated, David O’Sullivan focused on some positive achievements that the EEAS has delivered over the past year and a half; in his opinion, the EEAS’s action has been very positive in the Balkans, in mediating the rising tension between Russia and Georgia, in promoting the E3+3 talks with Iran, in giving a new dynamism to the peace process in the Middle East, and in formulating the Joint Staff Working Paper on a Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean.
The financial and budgetary difficulties that the European Union and the Eurozone currently face, undoubtedly cast a shadow on the aforementioned positive accomplishments of the EEAS. However, this challenging context plays the role of a double-edge knife. On the one hand side, the EEAS is challenged by the need to deliver result and prove its value-added in order to counter some member states’ tendency to rely solely on national capabilities. On the other hand though, the economic crisis creates the necessary incentives for the further integration of foreign policy, as it has been widely admitted across the EU that pooling and sharing was the answer to the crisis. Despite this potentially positive input, the EEAS should not only rely on these external factors, but rather develop and consolidate its strategic vision, while supporting member states’ national diplomacies and strengthening its relationship with them.
On the question of the EEAS’s relations with other institutions, organisations or entities, Poul Skytte Christoffersen considers that there is some effort to be made on the part of the rotating presidencies that need to accept that providing foreign policy input for the EU is now the responsibility of the EEAS. He highlighted the crucial role of EU delegations, providing public diplomacy for the EU. Relations between EU bilateral delegations and national embassies need to be reinforced, while multilateral delegations face more functional difficulties that need to be solved. On the other hand, Graham Avery underlined that the EEAS suffers from a systemic problem in its relations with the Commission. Instead of perceiving each other as colleagues, the Commission and the EEAS seem to act more as rivals, although there is a fundamental need for both to work hand in hand on various issues.
Finally, the issue of legitimacy is central to EU institutions and services. Hanna Ojanen emphasized that the EEAS’s legitimacy was dependent on the EU’s overall legitimacy. In this respect, setting the priorities right and performing well are necessary conditions to the strengthening of the EEAS’s legitimacy. Thus, the mid-term review, and the service’s reaction to the review are fundamental. She argued that the EEAS does not only need to increase its input legitimacy (capacity, appropriateness), but also its output (transparency, accountability) and existential legitimacy (visibility) in order to realise its full potential.
The longed transition to the EEAS turned out to be sudden, brutal and difficult. The thorny period of transition, definition and adaptation has now left place to a period of consolidation. In this context, the mid-term review should tackle the issues that were raised during this policy dialogue through punctual changes, while panellists are wary of the consequences of structural changes to Council Decision 11665/1/10. In a closing remark directed to member states, the panel reminded that the EEAS would do as much as member states let it do.
 Especially since DGs Trade and DEVE do not benefit from their own geographical desks.