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EMinS ASKED: HOW IS THE EUROPEAN EXTERNAL ACTION SERVICE HELPING THE EU DIPLOMACY COPE WITH CHALLENGES?

24.11.2015

The European Union had a rather turbulent year which laid out many tests of character. One of the fields which came in the spotlight in 2015 was the EU Diplomacy, which faced new challenges. It tried to voice the position of its 28 member states in a single foreign and defence policy through turbulent moments, such as the spring Ukrainian crises or the autumn migrant crisis. It even endured the ‘epic’ negotiations and reached the historic Iranian nuclear deal, a major success of EU multilateral approach which resulted in a grand geopolitical compromise considered impossible by many.


European Movement in Serbia discussed the character of today’s European Diplomacy, its strengths and weaknesses and implications for Serbia, with Professor Jozef Bátora. Mr. Bátora is associate professor at the Department of Political Science at Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia, and co-editor of the recently published “The European External Action Service: European Diplomacy Post-Westphalia” presented recently at the 5th Belgrade Security Forum. 

 

EMinS: What are the main characteristics of “Post-Westphalian” diplomacy?

 

"Non-territorial nature of EU foreign service, promoting policy and normative interests of both EU institutions and its 28"

Jozef BátoraI think that there are two sets of aspects which make the European diplomacy post-Westphalian. First, the EU is developing diplomatic capacities on a par with states. This is a relatively new situation, as the EU is getting classical diplomatic capacity in the sense of having a foreign policy, foreign affairs administration and embassies of sorts. However, the main difference compared to national foreign services of countries can be found in the EU’s multinational foreign service and its agenda which is not exactly territorial in nature, as the EU rather promotes policy interests and normative interests as a non-territorial entity. Such a diplomatic service of a non-sovereign kind is not something unprecedented in history but rather similar to medieval forms of diplomacy. 

 

The second aspect making the EU’s diplomacy post-Westphalian is that the EEAS as a service represents both the interests of EU institutions and of its 28 member states. This is a parallelism of sorts and is quite unusual in the diplomatic world of sovereign states. 

 

EMinS: Could you share with us your views on how is the EU uses the EEAS as a tool, and is the EU using the full potential of the EEAS?

 

Jozef Bátora: The EEAS is a new tool and the EU and its member states are learning to work with it just as it normally happens with any other new tool one gets. It has only been five years now since its establishment and, given this organizational newness, the EEAS has been rather successful in smoothening up its operations. As an organization, the EEAS is working pretty well today and I think this is an achievement that has to be ascribed to Catherin Ashton who was really good in making it smooth from an organisational point of view. Of course, the member states are also learning to cope with having such an institution, learning to work with it, to use the resources that the EEAS has at its disposal, and to make use of its functions in support of member states’ policies. This is a learning situation for all involved actors.

 

EMinS: If we perceive the EEAS from its structure to the results that it has achieved so far, what are the advantages on the one hand, and its missed opportunities, or even failures on the other?

 

Jozef Bátora: This depends on how you measure and assess success and missed opportunities. If you use the state optics, or the state standards, in terms of what a diplomatic service is supposed to do, then you will find a lot of failures. If you compare the results of the EEAS to those of a classical foreign ministry of a state you will see a lot of shortcomings, as the EEAS is not able to promote the interests in a unified and coherent manner. As a complex service, which is not only a diplomatic service of a classic kind but incorporates crisis management and developmental administration as its parts, EEAS faces all sorts of irregularities and non-standard situations. 

 

"EEAS success in establishing framework for EU’s comprehensive approach: Defence, foreign affairs and development under one roof."

But if you take into account the interstitial or hybrid nature of the EEAS when perceiving the criteria of success, you can see that the EEAS has been quite successful in establishing a framework for EU’s comprehensive approach in external relations. And this is pretty unique as there is no state in the world which would have defence ministry administration and the foreign affairs administration and the development administration under one roof. There are governmental models trying to integrate these services as, for instance, Norway who used to have the foreign ministry and the development ministry under one roof, but there is no government who would have the foreign ministry, the defence ministry and intelligence agency under one roof.


The EU member states are directly benefiting from this integrated approach as they can often rely on information that the EEAS gets out of the network of its delegations but also from member states’ governments who provide information to the EEAS via the crises management units and the so-called Intelligence Centre (INCENT) where they gather intelligence and analyse international crises. Through this comprehensive approach the EEAS generates information and knowledge at a level which single member states often cannot produce. Especially the smaller member states often do not have the necessary situational awareness during international crises and the EEAS information resources can help them make more informed decisions.

 

EMinSDo you think that EU’s engagements in the Middle East (Iranian nuclear talks), as well as the recent refugee crisis, will affect the EEAS and EU’s diplomacy overall, bringing it in the spotlight and enhancing its importance?

 

Jozef Bátora: The EEAS played quite a constructive role in the Iranian crisis, and it turned out to be an exercise of quite skilful diplomacy from Ms Mogherini as well as others involved in the negotiations. In this case, Ms Mogherini has proven very versatile and very skilful negotiator, leading to progress in achieving that deal and in coordination of the major EU member states in a common endeavour towards reaching a European stance on these issues. This is a useful example of success in the EU’s classical bilateral approach to diplomacy. Of course, how and to what extent the deal is implemented by Iran remains to be seen.

 

EMinS: And in terms of the refugee crisis?

 

"EU has the capabilities to address the refugee crisis, as seen in skillful diplomacy of EEAS and Mogherini during the Iranian crisis"

Jozef Bátora: The current refugee crisis is an example of a complex crisis with various and complex roots and causes in the societies where the refugees come from. This requires a comprehensive approach. The EU has quite a few tools and experience in developing such approaches as it has traditionally been working towards addressing quite complex intra-societal challenges in places such as Libya, Tunesia, Sub-Saharan Africa but also Syria and other regions around the EU.


At this point, the jury is still out, and we cannot assess where is the crisis is going and how deep it will become but I do believe that the capabilities of the EU are in place to address the crisis. It remains to be seen whether this will put more spotlight on the importance of EU Diplomacy and the EEAS but I think that especially for the small member states this is proving to be a crucial resource right now. For instance, think about the bombing raids that Russia has been conducting in Syria. The start of the campaign was sudden and quite unexpected. There are varying accounts and interpretations of what is going on on the ground and what are Russia’s strategic and tactical objectives. Such situations might prove the usefulness of the EEAS if it can generate situational awareness and analytical information out of combining the informational resources made available by the member state governments and that can in turn enhance the capacities of the member states to make well-informed foreign policy decisions. So when, for instance, the Slovak government looks at the situation and gets the reports and other informational and analytical support from the EEAS they can possibly improve the analytical basis for their own decision making. 

 

EMinS: How would you assess the position and role of EU’s diplomacy in other international organisations, the UN for example?

 

"Member States keep their place in diplomacy, but EU coordinates different standpoints"

Jozef Bátora: The position of the EU in international organizations is evolving. What the EU has achieved so far is a special status in the UN as well as in a number of other international organisations, which is giving it greater rights than other regional grouping, such as ASEAN, the African Union or MERCOSUR states. Although the EU now has more of a role to play, the member states, of course, want to maintain their own ‘actorness’ in diplomacy, bilaterally and in international organisations. They do not want to lose the possibility to have their own initiatives. Usually the EU coordinates their standpoints but the member states still want to have their own rights of initiative. Too much unification could also be counterproductive as it might stifle imagination and new ideas. Overall it is very good to have such a possibility for member states which I hope Serbia will also be one day. For Serbia, when it becomes a member state, it should have the possibility to voice its own ideas on what to do in the UN, and the EU delegation should be there to coordinate.

 

EMinS: Finally, if you would be in the position of an EU candidate state, how would you perceive the role and position of EU diplomacy in shaping international politics?

 

"Serbia should coordinate all its foreign policies with EU and set up strong links with EEAS"

Jozef Bátora: I think that for Serbia, given its candidate status to the EU, it would be prudent to coordinate all its foreign policies with the EU. The EEAS is making this coordination easier because it functions as institutional memory and agenda setter for the EU’s foreign policy apparatus. Thus, it is useful for Serbia to set up quite strong links with the EEAS and thereby have smoother foreign policy coordination with the EU. Of course, Serbia still has to follow and work with the member states as well but the fact that most working groups in the Council are now chaired by the EEAS is very useful as a central EU-level counterpart for Serbia and others who are going to join the EU hopefully very soon.

 

(Interview conducted by Ms. Tara Tepavac, researcher at the European Movement in Serbia)


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