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date: 24 November 2020

The European External Action Service (EEAS)free

  • Ana E. JuncosAna E. JuncosSchool of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol
  •  and Karolina PomorskaKarolina PomorskaDepartment of Political Science, Leiden University


The European External Action Service, with its 140 delegations all over the world and its headquarters in Brussels is a unique institution, which has been likened to a state diplomatic service or EU ministry of foreign affairs. The composition of the EEAS and its functions have been the result of complex negotiations between the member states of the European Union and EU institutions. The ability of the EEAS to have an influence in the European Union’s foreign policy process and outcome is still a subject of controversy, not least because it co-exists with 28 national diplomatic services. The impact of the establishment of the EEAS on the emergence of a esprit de corps among its ranks and whether it has led to the transformation of European diplomacy as a result constitutes other key questions in existing scholarly debates.


The European External Action Service (EEAS) is a unique institution on the global stage. Its creation resulted from an attempt to build a fully fledged diplomatic service of a union that brings together 28 nation-states (soon to be 27). The idea itself has a long history and was the subject of debate in European circles long before it materialized (Duke, 2012b; Morgenstern, 2013). The creation of the EEAS and an office similar to a minister for foreign affairs became a central part of the recommendations of the Convention for Europe, which took place between 2001 and 2003. The convention sought to improve the coherence and effectiveness of the European Union’s external action and an institutional reform was part of its outcomes (Duke, 2012a, p. 47). However, it took a decade before these provisions could be implemented, including a failed referendum on the so-called Treaty Establishing the Constitution for Europe. The Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force on December 1, 2009, finally brought to life both the EEAS and the high representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and vice president of the Commission—hereafter high representative.

This article first discusses the establishment of the EEAS and its composition, followed by an analysis of relationships that the service has developed with other EU institutions and with the member states. It then provides an assessment of the ways in which the EEAS has been able to gain agency in the making of European Foreign Policy. Finally, the article addresses the question of whether the EEAS has transformed European diplomacy.

The Establishment of the EEAS

The EEAS was formally established by the Lisbon Treaty, which came into force on December 1, 2009. Led by the EU’s High Representative, the new service was to comprise staff brought from the European Commission, the Council Secretariat General, and from the diplomatic services of the EU member states. As such, its establishment was hailed as the “most ambitious reform effort in European foreign policy, ever” (Lehne, 2011, p. 2). Theoretically, the creation of the EEAS has been analyzed from various theoretical perspectives. For example, Morgenstern-Pomorski (2018) offered a bureaucratic politics perspective with elements of historical institutionalism. Historical elements are also key in the analysis of Smith (2013) and Vanhoonacker and Reslaw (2010), while Bátora (2013) proposed a new conceptual approach of interstitial organization, coming from the organizational theory perspective. Finally, the negotiations over the EEAS were also studies from a neo-realist perspective by Kluth and Pilegaard (2012).

The Lisbon Treaty did not provide details about the composition and functioning of the new organization, and these had to be subsequently ironed out in inter-institutional negotiations, which culminated in the adoption of the Council Decision of July 26, 2010 (Council of the EU, 2010). It took two long years, however, to create the service, which only became operational in January 2011. As pointed out by Smith (2013, p. 1304), the political circumstances that surrounded the creation of the EEAS over this decade-long period, coupled with the lack of clarity over its institutional status and structure, provided good grounds for intergovernmental bargaining and turf wars inside the Brussels system. It seemed that everybody underestimated the task of negotiating the details of how the new service would look and function.

The establishment of the EEAS, including the negotiations since the European Convention, and the nature of the organization have been analyzed in the extensive study Morgenstern-Pomorski (2018). This study also shows three constitutive stages of the development of the EEAS: inception, establishment, and consolidation. Each of these stages is characterized by different political and bureaucratic dynamics. The inception took place during the convention and included a wider variety of actors than the usual intergovernmental conference. This made the agreement more likely. However, the political conflict between the integrationalist-federalist and intergovernmentalist members of the convention prevented it from delivering a detailed plan of the new service (Morgenstern-Pomorski, 2018, p. 101). The establishment of the EEAS took place between the start of administrative preparations in 2004 and the EEAS decision in 2010. During this phase, sovereignty concerns were key in the cautious approach by the member states, who wanted the EEAS to be independent from the European Commission but, at the same time, not strong enough to challenge the member states (Morgenstern-Pomorski, 2018, p. 131). The reverse position was taken by the European Commission and the European Parliament, which initially even sought the incorporation of the new service to the Commission. Finally, the consolidation phase took place between 2011 and 2013. In this phase, the EEAS established itself as an autonomous hierarchical organization through budget maximization and bureau-shaping processes.

The different actors’ strategies during the negotiations have also been analyzed using a neo-realist approach by Kluth and Pilegaard (2012), which argued that the major driving forces behind the establishment of the EEAS, the United Kingdom, and France, had “little to lose and much to win” in establishing a centralized EU diplomatic service (Kluth & Pilegaard, 2012, p. 318). From this perspective, the EEAS is therefore seen as a tool used by the most powerful member states to enhance their prestige. However, others have argued that institutional actors also sought to influence the process of establishing the EEAS, in particular, the European Commission (Morgenstern, 2013; Morgenstern-Pomorski, 2018; Murdoch, 2012). According to Lefebvre and Hillion (2010, p. 3), European Commission President Barroso sought to maintain the influence of the commission over the EEAS by ensuring that the trade area would fall outside of the high representative’s competence as a vice president of the European Commission. Murdoch (2012) has shown the significance of internal coordination mechanisms within EU institutions as a determining factor during the negotiations on the EEAS. Specifically, she has argued that the institutional compromise was agreed mainly through the “co-ordination functions of the Secretariats-General of the Council and of the Commission” (Murdoch, 2012, p. 1023).

Other studies focused on the role of the past decisions in the process of shaping the EEAS. For instance, Vanhoonacker and Reslow (2010, p. 3) argued that past practice and institutional legacies played a crucial role for the choices of staffing, scope, and functions of the service were concerned. Bátora (2013, p. 599) conceptualized the EEAS as an “interstitial organization,” in other words, “an organization emerging in interstices between various organizational fields and recombining physical, informational, financial, legal and legitimacy resources stemming from organizations belonging to these different organizational fields.” As such, the EEAS institutional design draws on other institutions, including foreign ministries and diplomatic services, defense ministries, and crisis-management agencies, as well as global corporations. Certainly, the seven managing directors organized mainly along geographical lines were taken from the DR Relex in the European Commission (Smith, 2013).

EEAS Composition and Functions

Before moving to the composition and role of the service, it is important to reflect on the status of the EEAS. The status of the new service caused controversy from the very start of the negotiations, as it was directly related to its potential independence from existing institutions and member states (Morgenstern, 2013). While the European Parliament proposed to situate the EEAS within the European Commission, member states opposed the idea and insisted that it should be independent from the commission. Eventually, the EEAS was created as a “functionally autonomous body” according to the treaty. Unlike EU agencies, the EEAS has not been granted a legal personality, and there is no mention in the decision about the possibility of the EEAS being a party to legal proceedings (Van Vooren, 2010, p. 14).

There has been some debate as to the meaning of such provision. For Blockmans and Hillion (2013), it is important to distinguish two elements here: functionality and organization. Functionality refers to tasks such as the formulation of policy proposals, information gathering. For its part, organizational elements concern staff and financial regulations, accountability to the European Parliament and the fact that the EEAS is under the authority of the HRVP (Blockmans & Hillion, 2013, p. 5). They argue that while the EEAS is not to be treated as an organizationally autonomous body, it should be considered functionally autonomous (Blockmans & Hillion, 2013).

Regarding the composition of the EEAS, it was foreseen that at least 60% at AD level (administrators) should come from EU institutions (i.e., European Commission and Council Secretariat), with officials from the diplomatic services of the EU member states representing at least a third of EEAS officials. In order to reach this figure, the staff regulations adopted in October 2010 state that, until June 30, 2013, priority for certain posts in the EEAS should be given to national diplomats in case of substantially equal qualifications (European Union, 2010b, p. 8). In June 2013, the proportion of national diplomats reached 32.9% (EEAS, 2013). From 1 July 2013, posts were opened to officials from other EU institutions, such as the European Parliament. The transfer of staff from the European Commission (mostly DG External Relations [Relex] and DG Development [DEV]) and the General Secretariat of the Council took place en masse on 1 January 2011. This was followed by the gradual employment of national diplomats. Unlike in the national ministries of foreign affairs (MFAs), military personnel, working for the EU Military Staff (EUMS), were also to form part of the EEAS.

As well as ensuring the right institutional balance, the staff regulations also included provisions to ensure geographical and gender balance. Hence, during the first years of the EEAS, particular care was also placed to ensure a proportional representation from each of the member states and to increase the number of women working in the service. A key concern during the establishment of the EEAS was whether it could provide appropriate incentives for national diplomats to join. In this regard, and to avoid discouraging applicants, the council decision states that national diplomats should have the same “rights and obligations and be treated equally” (European Union, 2010a, p. 35, Article 6.7). It also foresees that member states should provide their national diplomats with a “guarantee of immediate reinstatement at the end of their period of service to the EEAS” (European Union, 2010a, p. 35).

In terms of its functions, it would be wrong to equate the EEAS with a “foreign ministry,” since as well as hosting the EU delegations it also includes elements from defense, development, and trade ministries built into it. The EEAS not only supports the EU’s external representation, but it is also in charge of planning and implementing EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) operations and missions. Its role is also shaped by institutional considerations and the idiosyncratic features of the EU’s external action, such as the need to ensure consistency between the European Commission and Council activities in external relations. Thus, the Council Decision expects the European Commission and the EEAS to consult each other in matters concerning external relations and, as envisaged in the decision, the EEAS has become part of the commission’s inter-service consultations procedures.

More specifically, the EEAS is tasked with supporting the high representative in fulfilling her threefold mandate: (1) to conduct the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and to ensure the consistency of the EU’s action; (2) in her capacity as chair of the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC); and (3) in her capacity as the vice president of the European Commission (Council of the EU, 2010: Art. 2). Additionally, the EEAS assists the president of the European Council and the president of the European Commission. Since 2011, the EEAS has also taken over the responsibilities of the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. This entails, among other things, chairing the Political Security Committee (PSC), as well as most of the Council of the European Union working groups dealing with the CFSP and CSDP.

With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, commission delegations were automatically transformed into EU delegations (Drieskens, 2012; Maurer, 2013). EU delegations were tasked with representing the union and with cooperating and contributing to the formulation and implementation of a common approach. In the area of consular protection, Council Decision of July 2010 (Art. 5[9]) also mentions that EU delegations can have a role in providing consular protection in the future, although the EEAS still has few resources or expertise to carry out such tasks. According to Duquet (2018) EU delegations fulfill most traditional diplomatic functions as per the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and even go beyond these, although their role is still limited by the division of competences in EU law.

EU delegations have gradually enhanced their role in political reporting and devote a great amount of time to coordinating the positions of EU member states in third countries and international organizations. However, it is important to note that the EEAS amounts to less than 50% of the total staff working at delegations and that the majority of staff still comes from European Commission directorate-generales. In some delegations there may be only one member of staff from the EEAS (Bicchi & Maurer, 2018, p. 14). It is not surprising that during the initial years after the creation of EEAS, member states’ view on their role was still rather critical, with a London-based official being quoted as saying that the EU delegations “don’t really add a lot” (Wright, 2013, p. 23). Assessing the role of EU delegations in their first years of existence, Austermann (2014) argued that this development has contributed to “the centralisation” of European diplomacy. However, this centralization has taken place at varied speeds, with the delegations asserting a stronger role vis-à-vis developing partners than when it comes to third countries where EU member states have a stronger economic or political interest. Thus, rather than replacing national diplomacies, EU delegations have continued working with and alongside them (Bicchi & Maurer, 2018, p. 13).

Inter-Institutional Relations

One of the key aims of the Lisbon Treaty and the establishment of both the EEAS and the new double-hatted High Representative was to improve the internal and external coherence of European foreign policy. While evaluating to what extent this goal was met, one can identify different effects in the short and long terms. The years immediately following the creation of the service were characterized by quite serious inter-institutional turf battles. This situation changed after the second post-Lisbon High Representative, Federica Mogherini, started her term, when the relations with the European Commission improved.

When it comes to the European Commission’s relationship with the EEAS, studies have shown some troublesome beginnings. The most vulnerable area in this respect was development policy, where responsibilities overlapped, and new formal and informal working arrangements needed to be established. Here, the earlier expectation was that by working with member states and the European Commission, the EEAS could harmonize and establish links between the member states’ and the European Commission’s programming cycles (Tannous, 2013, p. 333). Tannous has argued (2013, p. 335) that the initial proposals by High Representative Catherine Ashton were seen by the European Commission as a “direct attack on competences it had acquired during several decades.” As a result, it fought to retain its competences in areas of development and neighborhood policy. Eventually, the EEAS was given a role in programming, which was to be carried out under the authority of the Commissioner for international cooperation and development (Lehne, 2011, p. 8). The European Commission would also remain responsible for the implementation phase. Such arrangement was seen as undermining the goal of improving coherence of the EU’s external action because, as Stefan Lehne (2011, p. 8) argued, a “key component of the EU’s relations with the majority of countries in the South . . . remains largely independent from foreign policy.”

Furness (2013) has used a principal–agent framework and argued that the only way in which the EEAS may build autonomy from member states is by working closely with the European Commission in the areas in which the Commission has competence (Furness, 2013, pp. 123–124). In practice, however, relations with the European Commission in potentially difficult areas have remained mostly strained. Michael E. Smith gives several examples (Smith, 2013, pp. 11–12), including a clash between the humanitarian aid agenda, involving the European Community Humanitarian Office in the European Commission, and the emergency/disaster-response agenda, involving the EEAS Managing Director for Crisis Response and Operational Coordination. Vanhoonacker and Pomorska (2013) noted that while relations on the lower levels of the institutional hierarchy were mostly smooth, the problems arose higher in the structure. For example, the high representative was supposed to be chairing the meetings of the External Relations Group of Commissioners, but in practice she hardly had any time to do so. Vanhoonacker and Pomorska (2013, p. 1324) also mentioned that from the perspective of the European Commission, the EEAS was seen as a weak agenda manager.

The relations with the European Commission changed when High Representative Federica Mogherini took office in 2014. At the start of her tenure, the new European Commission President Juncker, requested that she prioritized her role within the European Commission. To this end, she moved to the Berlaymont building and included staff from the European Commission into her political cabinet (Pomorska & Vanhoonacker, 2016).

Regarding relations between the EEAS and the European Parliament, Wisniewski (2013) argued that the European Parliament managed to generate “real influence” on the negotiations over the EEAS and was recognized by other actors in Brussels as an “important policy actor despite the lack of power” (Wisniewski, 2013, p. 100). This has led, as Wisniewski argued, to the setup of the EEAS gaining more democratic legitimacy. These findings are supported by Raube (2012), which claimed that the European Parliament would be able to scrutinize the high representative and the EEAS by acquiring more information in the CFSP and CSDP domains, by holding its staff accountable and by controlling the budget of the EEAS. Others, however, are more cautious when assessing democratic deficit in the CFSP and the involvement of the European Parliament, whose role still remains “limited” (Edwards, 2013, p. 286).

The EEAS and the Member States

The study of the EEAS also provides an opportunity to examine the role of the member states in EU foreign policy. In particular, their approach to the EEAS exposes long-standing political disagreements between the member states regarding the role of the EU in foreign and security issues. European foreign and security policy constitutes the “last bastion” of state sovereignty, and therefore it was to be expected that any newcomer would be greeted with suspicion or even open hostility. From the very beginning it was noted that member states were involved in “a rearguard action to minimize the innovations of the Lisbon Treaty” (Emerson, quoted in Spence, 2012, p. 116). As noted in the first section, the EEAS had a difficult start, which also applies to the way the member states related to the new service. Balfour and Raik note, for instance, that

the difficulties of the transition to the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty, the acrimonious negotiations around the creation of the EEAS, and the operational struggle of the first years of the EEAS all contributed to a tense atmosphere. The backdrop of the economic crisis and its impact on solidarity among the member states and trust in the Union made the overall context all the more difficult.

(Balfour & Raik, 2015, p. 265)

The creation of the EEAS challenged the ability of the state to monopolize symbolic power, and the possibility of its future growth caused uneasiness in the MFAs (Adler-Nissen, 2014). The creation of the EEAS also responded to the desire to avoid a “communitarisation” of EU foreign policy, by creating an organization, which unlike the European Commission, was to remain under the control of the member states. In the process of putting the EEAS together, some member states, including France, made it clear that there was “no question of the EEAS becoming a 28th diplomatic service” and that the high representative would act on the mandate from member states (French Europe Minister, quoted in Edwards, 2013, p. 279). In a similar vein, the U.K. Foreign Secretary had sent instructions to U.K. representatives around the world that they should watch out for any “competence creep” on the part of the EEAS (Edwards, 2013, p. 285); while any ambitions the EEAS had of becoming a rival or a competitor to national diplomatic services were considered “unacceptable” (Wright, 2013, p. 9). By and large, member states also sought to “parachute” their best candidates into appointed slots as EEAS officials, reflecting their desire to maintain control of EU foreign and security policy. However, one could also note that this had the potential to become a “double-edged sword” by strengthening the expertise available to the very same actor they wanted to keep control over.

In the years that followed, however, a mostly positive rhetoric has been deployed by the member states in relation to the EEAS. For most member states, the EEAS was expected to add value to their own work. However, the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic were most worried about the possibility of a creeping takeover of their own functions (Balfour & Raik, 2015). Member states have justified the creation of the EEAS in terms of “complementarity” and aiding or enhancing the diplomatic efforts of EU member states in a more connected world (Balfour & Raik, 2015). This instrumental view of the EEAS was particularly held by the big member states (e.g., France, United Kingdom), although for smaller member states, the EEAS undoubtedly also played a role of “force multiplier” of their diplomatic efforts (Balfour & Raik, 2015).

In practice, member state cooperation with the EEAS has varied over time and has depended on member states. In fact, we observe different attitudes toward the EEAS, with some member states—or even sometimes the same member state—asking for a more proactive role from the EEAS and the high representative and in other cases, adopting a cautious approach to increasing information sharing, or blocking a more proactive role by the EEAS due to fears of “competence creep.” For instance, it has been noted that member states have been reluctant to hand over competences to the EEAS (Helwig, 2013). The EEAS and member states have also struggled over agenda setting in the Foreign Affairs Council (Morillas, 2011, pp. 253–254). In general, the instrumentalist approach has prevailed with member states using the EEAS when it supports their interests, in particular, on EU policies where there is a high degree of consensus such as enlargement. It is not surprising then that the EEAS has played a relatively influential role in the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo but a minor one on more controversial issues such as the Ukrainian crisis (Novakly, 2015). Paradoxically, a comparative study of 14 member states revealed that a desire to retain national control over foreign and security policy is accompanied by demands for more leadership on the part of the EEAS and the High Representative in foreign policy (Balfour & Raik, 2015). Vanhoonacker and Pomorska (2013) have also shown that national diplomats complained about the lack of initiative and leadership shown by the EEAS, as well as on the low quality of the reports and last-minute changes.

In their approach to the EEAS, member states have shared two concerns: the need to achieve greater efficiency and cost effectiveness (Wright, 2013, p. 21). For instance, practical “burden-sharing,” through the co-location of national diplomats in EU delegations, is generally perceived as favorable and as a form of added value by the EEAS. Yet, despite the considerable economies of scale that could result from resorting to the 140 EU delegations and offices around the world, member states have not made full use of them. This provides another example of the reluctance of the member states to lose control in this key policy area. Thus, in the contest to retain/gain influence, consular representation has become a key area of contention. Member states remain divided on how far the EU competence should reach: with some arguing positively for the effective use of resources and some even arguing that the EEAS should be given the responsibility of issuing short-term Schengen visas (Wouters & Duquet, 2012, p. 43). Other member states are opposed to any further steps in this direction, claiming the issue is “a purely national competence” (Wessel & Van Vooren, 2013, p. 1361).

Shaping European Foreign Policy

One of the core questions for those studying international institutions and bureaucracies is whether these bodies make a difference in the policymaking process and whether they are able to shape policy outcomes. In the context of the European external relations, there has already been a debate about the policy impact and/or autonomy displayed by the European Commission or the Council Secretariat (e.g., Dijkstra, 2008; Hooghe, 2001; Kassim et al., 2013; Laffan, 1997). In the case of the EEAS, the discussion about its influence developed from different theoretical angles. Principal–Agent and administrative approaches have been used to determine whether the EEAS is able to gain agency and shape policies within or even beyond their mandates (Dijkstra, 2017; Henökl & Trondal, 2015). While the service had already demonstrated a substantial actor-level autonomy, while behavioral autonomy of its staff was largely dependent on the organizational capacities of the EEAS itself (Henökl & Trondal, 2015). Delegation of certain tasks has also been considered a sign of growing trust toward the service by the member states, leading to the stronger EEAS role in policy shaping such as in the case of the crisis in Ukraine (Natorski & Pomorska, 2017).

The EEAS has also been able to derive some policy influence from its functions and position in the complex system of EU decision making, not unlike the Council Secretariat General under Javier Solana. The chairing of the Working Groups and Committees in the foreign and security policy placed it in the center of information exchanges. In this vein, Bicchi (2012) has argued that the EEAS played a pivotal function in information sharing between member states and at the same time contributing to information processing and information gathering. The EEAS has also transformed the nature of the COREU (Correspondance Européenne) network by changing the direction of information flows, with nearly half of the messages originating in Brussels rather than in the capitals (Bicchi, 2012, p. 93).

In terms of its overall ability to influence the policy outcome, there were numerous criticisms, in particular in the first years of the EEAS, about its lack of activism. Smith (2013) noted how the implementation of CSDP suffered with the establishment of the EEAS, resulting in a temporary halt to launching new missions. Nicholas Wright also noted that member states’ officials criticized the EEAS for its inability to deal with policy in crisis areas such as Sudan (Wright, 2013, p. 24). Yet, the EEAS has also managed to find influence in certain specialized policy areas. For example, Bueger (2016) has shown how the EEAS has expanded its role on international counter-piracy efforts, alongside the European Union itself becoming “a core actor in the domain of epistemic practice” (Bueger, 2016, p. 416). It could be therefore argued that while the creation of the EEAS may eventually bring transformative change in European foreign policy, its significance has been limited so far. This is, of course, due to numerous reasons, not all internal to the EEAS and many outside of its control.

Another function that at least in theory provided the EEAS with potential source of influence was its agenda-setting competences. According to the Lisbon Treaty, the high representative shares the right of initiative with the member states in the area of CFSP, whereas in other areas of external relations the High Representative submits proposals together with the European Commission. Vanhoonacker and Pomorska (2013) concluded that most attention in the first stages of EEAS existence (under Catherine Ashton’s leadership) was directed at building credibility; while mobilizing allies and gaining attention for policies left much room for improvement. For her part, High Representative Federica Mogherini has been more active on selected policy portfolios. One area where she took a decisive lead was the drafting and political discussions around the EU Global Strategy (Tocci, 2017).

Another question of broader significance to European foreign policy was whether the creation of the EEAS would lead to more coherent EU external relations. Early studies suggest that—at least in the first stages of EEAS existence—coherence and cooperation on the ground did not improve (Baltag, 2013). As mentioned earlier in this article, the relations with the European Commission remained strained, especially in the area of development. While the EEAS was to provide a strategic overview and political choices, the European Commission retained its role in implementation (Vanhoonacker & Pomorska, 2015). This undermined horizontal coherence (i.e., co-ordination between different policy fields). Smith (2013) also noted the existence of three conflicts and how these have negatively affected coherence: Namely, these conflicts resulted from the intergovernmental politics regarding the structure and staffing of the EEAS; bureaucratic politics regarding the nature and role of the EEAS; and the tensions between two different policy priorities: development and security. These clashes affected the implementation of the EEAS and its contribution to improving the European Union’s external coherence and role.

Creating a European Diplomatic Corps

The EEAS was meant to transform European diplomacy by bringing together national diplomats, European Commission officials, and Council Secretariat officials into a new embryonic EU diplomatic corps. The Lisbon Treaty had not provided much detail regarding the composition of the EEAS, beyond stating that it “shall comprise officials from relevant departments of the General Secretariat of the Council and of the Commission as well as staff seconded from national diplomatic services of the Member States” (Article 27, TEU Lisbon). As mentioned above, the Council Decision of July 26, 2010, and the staff regulations provided more details, setting out a tentative staff composition of two thirds coming from EU institutions and one third from national diplomatic services (European Union, 2010a, 2010b) (see Section 2 ‘EEAS Composition and Function’).

Leaving aside the political and legal difficulties of establishing a new diplomatic service, the heterogenous composition of the EEAS entailed a new challenge. A common assumption in the literature was that it would be difficult to bring together officials from the European Commission, the Council Secretariat, and national diplomatic services because of their different organizational cultures, values, and worldviews (Berger et al., 2013; Duke, 2012b; Gstöhl, 2012; Juncos & Pomorska, 2013, 2015). In particular, fostering a esprit de corps among these officials was seen as a key test in the early stages of the EEAS. In this vein, Spence (2012, p. 122) noted that

EEAS staff and their various political masters do not (at least, yet) demonstrate such homogeneous attitudes, whether to European integration, ‘diplomacy’ itself, or to the EEAS. Nor are they actively encouraged to do so by either EU institutions or EU member states.

For Spence, one could thus distinguish three separate “epistemic communities” within the EEAS (Spence, 2012) represented by European Commission, Council Secretariat, and national diplomats. The broader issue raised by this is that of socialization and whether institutions might socialize their agents and in what ways. For instance, Juncos and Pomorska (2015) found that while the “majority of officials expressed support for the idea of a stronger European voice in the world to be achieved with the help of the new Service, their institution of origin shaped officials views regarding supranationalism/intergovernmentalism.” While national diplomats complained about the lack of diplomatic skills of their colleagues from the European Commission and the Council Secretariat and their overly technocratic approach to dealing with external relations; former European Commission and Council Secretariat officials noted that national diplomats were not always working in the “EU’s interests” but that some of them were still acting to further national interests and remained loyal to their member states. In general, European Commission and Council Secretariat officials also saw the establishment of the EEAS as strengthening the role of the member states in CFSP and the intergovernmental nature of this policy overall.

As a result of these different attitudes, one would expect low levels of esprit de corps among EEAS officials. This was also supported by early studies into the formation of esprit de corps. For instance, Juncos and Pomorska (2014) analyzed five factors that have the potential to promote its creation—leadership, communication, public image, trust, and training—and concluded that the EEAS did not score high on any of the aforementioned factors, with negative consequences for the development of an esprit de corps. Competing organizational logics within the EEAS were also said to result in different institutional orientations among its staff (Henökl, 2015). On the positive side, previous research found a strong identification with the EEAS and with the EU among EEAS staff (Juncos & Pomorska, 2015), which could provide a strong basis for building an esprit de corps. Moreover, the emergence of a shared background knowledge and a repertoire of practices among EEAS officials might also lead to the creation of a “community of practice” (Bicchi, 2012), although the rotation of staff is still used by the member states as a way to prevent their diplomats from “going native.”

Finally, training has been repeatedly mentioned as a key factor in the potential development of a European diplomatic corps (Berger et al., 2013; Duke, 2012b; Juncos & Pomorska, 2014) or an “epistemic community” (Cross, 2011). From this perspective, training is not only seen as a way to impart functional knowledge and diplomatic skills but to cultivate new norms and a distinctive identity (Cross, 2011, p. 455), fostering “an environment for socialization and professionalization” (Cross, 2011, p. 463). Moreover, although the EEAS adopted a training strategy in 2011 with more emphasis on skills acquisition and competences, training is provided by external trainers/providers (Duke, 2015). To this, one needs to add specific problems affecting training at the EU level such as the short duration of the courses or (Gstöhl, 2012). Moreover, the EEAS is only but a provider of training in a crowded environment, with other EU institutions (e.g., the European Security and Defence College) and, more importantly, the EU member state diplomatic academies still acting as the main providers in the field. Duke (2015) thus cautions against unreasonably high expectations: “Time spent in the EEAS canteen certainly outnumbers those spent in training per annum and may provide a more accurate indicator of socialisation.” Drawing on the case of the French Diplomatic and Consular Institute, Baylon (2016; p. 519) also makes the case that in order to develop a stronger esprit de corps, the EEAS would have to “complement the acquisition of operational skills (based on an acquisitive view of knowledge) with the social, relational, bodily, emotional, and symbolic elements of learning.”

Conclusion: Transforming European Foreign Policy?

The establishment and consolidation of the EEAS illustrates the continuous development of the European Union’s foreign policy from a purely intergovernmental field to a more transgovernmental one as a result of increasing institutionalization and Brusselization (Juncos & Pomorska, 2013). The EEAS has been said to constitute a hybrid model, bridging the gap between supranationalist and intergovernmentalist decision-making modes (Carta, 2012; Balfour & Raik, 2015) and closer to intensive transgovernmentalism (Wallace & Reh, 2015), where everyday contacts national diplomats are mediated and shaped by Brussels-based institutions and, in particular, the EEAS and the high representative.

A key question thus refers to the impact of the EEAS on national diplomacies. Has the establishment of the EEAS eroded the competences of the state? Or, by contrast, does the creation of the EEAS strengthen national diplomacies by providing them with additional resources and sources of legitimation? From the latter perspective, the EEAS would contribute to the European “rescue” of national diplomacies, to paraphrase Alan Milward. The EEAS was created with the agreement of the member states as a service complementary to national diplomatic services. As discussed earlier, member states have adopted an instrumentalist view of the EEAS, emphasizing the added value of the service, contributing to a stronger EU foreign policy. However, to date, member states, even the most pro-European ones, have not supported a more integrationist position, where the EEAS supersedes national diplomacies. Nonetheless, the creation of the EEAS has challenged more traditional notions of diplomacy and caused uneasiness in the MFAs (Adler-Nissen, 2014; Kluth & Pilegaard, 2012).

The EEAS also sheds light on the broader transformation of diplomacy. As put by Hocking and Smith (2011), the creation of the EEAS “pose interesting questions regarding both the general processes and structures of diplomacy in the rapidly changing environment of contemporary world politics” (p. 20). Diplomacy has traditionally been the prerogative of states, and while global dynamics have not relegated state representatives to a secondary role, it has meant that other actors, including the EEAS, now partake in diplomatic processes. As argued by Maurer and Morgenstern-Pomorski (2018, p. 312), while the EEAS has not been conceived as a foreign ministry, the EU delegations have been pursuing traditional diplomatic roles, while at the same time being a service to other EU actors, including of course the member states. From a more functional perspective, the EEAS can contribute to dealing with global governance problems in a more comprehensive manner as it hosts under its roof development, trade, and diplomatic and defense expertise (Spence & Batora, 2015). This is also in line with the European Union’s ambition to develop a more integrated approach to global issues (High Representative, 2016).

More fundamentally, the EEAS could contribute in innovative ways to the transformation of diplomacy. Bicchi and Maurer (2018, p. 3), for instance, note that rather than a new diplomatic system, the establishment of the EU delegations constitutes a new “site” that can lead to the emergence of “communities of practice.” This, they argue, constitutes an innovation in trends toward networked diplomacy because of the intensity, regularity, and leadership of interactions within this site. But the European Union’s diplomatic system will also be shaped by evolution of its integration process. Hocking and Smith (2011, p. 41) have argued that the future of the EU diplomatic system will depend, among other things, on the “internal logic” and the ways in which “progress or problems of the internal integration process play into the development of policy” where institutional foundations play a central role. Moreover, Smith (2018) also argued that the European Union’s diplomatic ambitions are still shaped by the fact that EU external action remains essentially a hybrid construct in which economic diplomacy plays a central role. Thus, it is no longer the case that “trade follows the flag.” In fact, the opposite might be true.

In sum, as illustrated by this article, the EEAS constitutes a microcosm of broader dynamics in European foreign policy. Chiefly, the creation, functioning and influence of the EEAS provides evidence as to the decision making, nature, and future direction of this policy area and will therefore continue to be a key area of study for scholars of EU foreign policy.


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