How the new European diplomatic service is viewed from the inside of the Commission? In order to get a better sense of this new organ, Nouvelle Europe had the privilege to ask the question directly to Štefan Füle, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy. This interview gives us some (hopeful) insights into the working of the “family” composed by the Commissioners for External relations.
Among others, one question is of particular interest : how are progressing the early stages of the cooperation between High Representative Catherine Ashton and the Commissioners responsible for external policies of the EU? Mr Füle himself, Mrs Kristalina Georgieva, the Bulgarian European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid & Crisis Response, and Mr Andris Piebalgs, the Latvian Commissioner for Development, all work in relation with the EEAS.
What do you expect from the new European External Action Service, which will be operational starting on January 1rst 2010?
All of us involved in the European Union have high hopes for the External Action Service, one of the most significant innovations brought about by the Lisbon Treaty. The EU needs to be able to defend and project our interests and values in a world of growing complexity. With the EEAS, the EU should be in a much better position to make a more coordinated use of all the instruments at the EU’s disposal: from military and civilian crisis management, through political dialogue, trade and cooperation across abroad range of sectors, to development and humanitarian aid.
And from the point of view of your portfolio?
I hope that this use of what one might call the EU’s "smart power'" will also bear fruit in the area for which I am responsible, namely the candidate and potential candidate countries as well as the neighbourhood. In particular, I will be relying of the staff of the External Action Service to support me in conducting the EU’s relations with the countries covered by the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP).
The Lisbon Treaty creates the new post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. According to the presentation of the Commission by Mr Barroso in November 2009, you (and Mrs Georgiva and Mr Piebalgs) should work “in close cooperation with the High Representative/Vice President”. How does this close cooperation translate into practice? Does Mrs Ashton intervene in your portfolio (be it directly or indirectly)?
I work very closely with Cathy Ashton – in all her capacities – as Vice President of the Commission, High Representative, and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Council. We see each other every week in the regular meetings of the Commission and the “external relations family” of Commissioners – including Cathy Ashton, Kristalina Georgieva, Andris Piebalgs and myself - meet regularly to ensure coordination on external relations issues. Andris, Kristalina or I regularly represent the Commission at the meetings of Foreign Affairs Council chaired by Cathy.
Let me give you some practical examples of how we are working together. In July, we presented a joint paper on Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Foreign Affairs Council. With regard to the neighbourhood, Cathy and I have jointly launched a review of the ENP, five years after it was established. We are conducting consultations with member states, partner countries and other stakeholders and in Spring 2011, we will be presenting the conclusions we draw from the review with proposals about how to take the policy forward. More generally, given my more limited geographical portfolio, I have the possibility to devote the time to ensuring we conduct the very necessary dialogue with each of our partner countries, enabling Cathy to concentrate on key strategic issues concerning the countries I am responsible for as well as, of course, her many other priorities.
What would be your answer if somebody asked you Henry Kissinger’s classic question (“Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?”) : Catherine Ashton? Herman Van Rompuy? Or somebody else?
Today, Hillary Clinton calls Cathy Ashton.
Source photo : Mr Füle answering one of the question posed by MEPs during his hearing, by European Parliament, on flickr