The Multilateralist

Dutch Experts Cool to European Union’s Foreign Service

Dutch Experts Cool to European Union’s Foreign Service

Since the launch in 2011 of the European Union’s foreign service — the External Action Service (EEAS) — a key question has been to what extent it would displace the diplomatic services of individual EU members. Nobody expected that Berlin, Paris, or London would shutter their foreign embassies and turn things over to the new Euro-diplomats. But that possibility has seemed more plausible for the next tier of EU members, particularly in an era of austerity.

A recent report by a group of Dutch experts provides some perspective on how the EEAS is viewed by an important EU member (the Netherlands ranks sixth in the EU by GDP and eighth by population). If these experts have their way, Dutch diplomats will not be replaced by European ones anytime soon:

A second visit to Brussels and additional discussions since June 2012 have left the Committee even more convinced that the EEAS cannot provide a complete alternative to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the short or medium term. Although the EEAS is now larger than the Ministry, it does not yet have a sufficiently stable basis to build on. The added value of the EEAS to the Dutch government cannot match that of our own missions.

Differences in culture and interests between the European Commission, the EEAS and EU member states are frustrating the achievement of a shared ideology and a genuine EU foreign policy. The EEAS primarily works for the High Representative and the European Commission, and so its organisation, working methods, design and culture are a reflection of its headquarters in Brussels. Aside from this already complex reality, serving the interests of 27 different countries is an almost impossible task. The Committee therefore recommends that opportunities for cooperation with the EEAS be considered gradually and without undue haste, or excessively high expectations.