Monday, 12 December 2011

We don't need a single voice, we need a choir that sings in harmony!

Interview with Maciej Popowski, Deputy Secretary General of the EEAS

"Strategical Partnerships with North Africa, the US,
Russia, China, Turkey and the Middle East
as well as horizontal approaches, such as a human rights
 policy are priorities on our agenda."
The European External Action Service (EEAS) is an independent service of the EU, however it is not considered being an institution. Rather, it serves as a diplomatic corps or a special type of a foreign ministry to the EU as well as a supportive service of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission, Catherine Ashton. European Stagiaires Journal interviewed its Deputy Secretary General, Maciej Popowski, about EEAS's current status and struggles within external relations of the EU.
Maciej Popowski has been a Polish diplomat for over twenty years now, even though he studied languages and literature. Nowadays, he belongs to the top management of the EEAS with the main responsibility for Inter-institutional Affairs.

As an independent office, the EEAS was established just recently, on December 1st, 2010. However, it is already subject to a number of speculations about its configuration, operation efficiency, and overall significance. What are the main inter-institutional issues that remain unsolved?

Since the beginning of this year we have managed to find our place. Setting up always takes time, it is quite natural. But I think that the Service is relatively stable now and the initial recruitment process is almost completed.
We have been recognized as an important partner, both, at a headquarters level and most importantly in the field, where our delegations are playing an important role, coordinating member states' efforts. In Brussels, we have a lot of interaction with the Commission. There are areas of shared competences, for example development policy, which I am looking after. Sometimes, it is a big bureaucracy, it takes time to come to an understanding, but I think we have come a long way and with numbers of joint initiatives, such as the recent Communication 'An Agenda for Change' on the future of the European development policy. We also have well established relations and a good footprint in the European Parliament. Cathy Ashton normally goes to every second session of the EP.
To sum up, the time of the very initial setting up phase is over. Nevertheless, we still have a number of challenges, in terms of policies, but I think we will be spending less and less time on managing ourselves. We will be spending more time on managing policies.

Regarding the division of power within EU institutions, there have been some question marks when it comes to the cooperation between the EEAS and the Commission. Especially in the field, when let´s say an official from DG Enlargement is appointed to a position in a delegation, whom is he subject to – to the Head of Unit in DG Enlargement or to the Head of the delegation that is representing the EEAS? Can there occur any clashes?

The Head of Delegation is ex officio member of the EEAS. Of course, in most of the delegations the majority of staff is still coming from the Commission. Thus, people coming from DG Enlargement or Development report on current matters to the original DG, but of course the Head of Delegation is always in charge and he is responsible for running of the whole house. There are still open legal questions about staff management, but this is not the major problem. The main challenges are budgetary control and scrutiny, which is why we need to work closely together with the Commission. This was also one of the main requests of the Parliament - to ensure that the Commission is really in charge of an actual disbursement of the EU funds.

To ensure impartiality, one third of the EEAS staff is originally delegated by the Member States. Two-thirds of the staff is transferred workers from the Council’s General Secretariat departments and officials of the Commission’s relevant departments. While creating the new Service, especially younger EU countries feared imbalance in terms of geographic representation within EEAS´s officials. Poland, for instance, was a country to have a strong voice. Is the situation stable now?

We are not there yet. First of all, it is a general problem that applies to many institutions. In terms of recruitment, in particular with senior staff, most of the Commission´s targets have been reached, as well as for most of the countries. When we were creating the EEAS, the percentage of the people from the relatively new member states was small and you cannot correct this by night. However, we have a number of senior staff coming from countries that joined in 2004 and 2007, including myself or Managing Director for Europe and Central Asia Miroslav Lajčák, who is Slovak. But particularly within the middle management level, we still need to improve this. We are not there yet, but it is not a forgotten issue.

The creation of the EEAS tried to ensure one voice within the European external policy. Will the EEAS ever speak with one voice when we keep following the number of statements, such as on uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, where statements were first made by the Commissioner for enlargement, later by José Manuel Barroso, later jointly by Mr. Füle and Catherine Ashton., afterwards jointly by Herman Van Rompuy, Cathy Ashton and Štefan Füle, later by the High Representative and the Commissioner jointly, and in the end the UK, Spain, France, Germany and Italy issued their joint statements as well?

We shouldn't expect that we will speak the one voice. I believe we can have several voices as long as they are in sync and follow a single script. Our role as the Service is to provide relevant players with a single script. We are not only a service of Cathy Ashton, we also serve for President Barroso and President Van Rompuy and we provide them with regular briefings and statistics – with several hundreds of briefings only for this year. So this is quite natural: they have a role to play according to Treaties, as does Cathy Ashton. Of course, we still need to engage with Member States to make sure that we have a consistent policy vis-à-vis our partners. Sometimes it is challenging and an ongoing discussion, but, again, this is a new situation. Thus, we don't need a single voice, we need a choir that sings in harmony.

Let´s turn to the recent political development: Catherine Ashton lately said that the protection of civilians in Syria is urgent. France already expressed the will of sending international troops. However, a Lybian-type no-fly-zone in out of agenda. Why is that so?

That would require a clear mandate from the United Nations, which is not the case. Indeed, for instance, the French foreign minister mentioned humanitarian corridors and there is no conclusion on this yet. But we are working very closely with the Arab League. They have adopted a very firm policy on Syria, introduced sanctions for the first time ever, suspended Syria from the Arab League and are ready to deploy civilian Arab League's observers to Syria. Now, we are ready to support them. This was discussed yesterday (Note: December 1st) by foreign ministers who had a lunch discussion with the Secretary General of the Arab League, Nabil el-Araby. In this case, this will be an Arab led effort. Back in the summer the EU also imposed sanctions, and sanctions were extended yesterday to cover more persons and more entities.

What does, in such a case, the work of the European External Action Service look like?

We have a geographical service employing people dealing with a certain region, in that case it is North Africa and Middle East and its Managing director Mr. Mingarelli, former deputy director general in DG RELEX. We also have another player, the EU special representative to the Southern Mediterranean, Bernardino Leon, who was appointed couple of months ago and his main task is to engage with the new authorities and civil societies in those countries. But depending on the situation, we mobilize different parts of the house and we manage different things. Whether we speak about crisis response in short term, or any kind of a long attending engagement, we can rely on different parts of this service. The purpose is to have everyone in a single service.

Some academics argue that the catchy phrase of an ambitious “Global Europe” has expired and that this age should be about Strategic or Selective Europe. What are the main points on the EEAS strategic agenda?

The priorities were identified by Cathy Ashton by the beginning of her mandate. We may adapt a couple of things but what she said one year ago is still very valid. First priority is to concentrate on the neighbourhood, and it was validated by events in North Africa. Furthermore, we focus on strategic partnerships, which combine traditional partners like the US, but also the new partners of emerging new governments. She has also invested heavily in building up a relationship with Russia, with China and with Turkey, which is an increasingly important player, particularly in the region of the Middle East. She has also devoted a lot of time and attention to the setting up of the Service, which is an on-going process. But I think that horizontal priorities of hers are very much reflected in what we do in the EEAS such as Human Rights Policy.

How do you see a future of the EEAS, where is it heading to?

We should be able to demonstrate our added value. That is what everybody expects. We are able to show what we, as a new Service, can do differently. We can use different instruments in coordinated ways such as development, traditional diplomacy and elements of defence policy in a single institutional framework what is a new quality. Soon, we will start programming our financial instruments for the next seven years budget as of 2014. Furthermore, we will continue our engagement in a neighbourhood area. And of course, we will work on synergy or better coordination between civilian and military actors, for example, trying to focus on security and development actors. Americans are doing the same, the World Bank is doing the same, and many European countries are very much engaged in building up that kind of an approach.

by Lucia Mrázová