External Affairs: Jobs for the old boys

Vittore Carpaccio, "Arrival of the English Ambassadors" (ca. 1495-1500). Tempera on canvas, Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice.
Vittore Carpaccio, "Arrival of the English Ambassadors" (ca. 1495-1500). Tempera on canvas, Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice.
23 August 2010 – Dziennik Gazeta Prawna (Warsaw)

Only two of the EU’s 115 ambassadors come from central Europe, all the rest come from Old Europe. As the "Foreign Affairs ministry" gets up and running, Poland warns that it will not tolerate the stitch-up.

The EU’s foreign policy is squarely in the hands “Old Europe”, with only two of its 115 ambassadors coming from new member states. A report by the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) found that most of the posts are held by French, Italian, Belgian and German officials. The two solitary Eastern European ambassadors were sent to Afghanistan and Norway. But it worse at EU’s “foreign ministry” in Brussels, where nine out of ten staff come from the older 15 member states.

None of the top foreign staff at all come from Poland, one of the largest members of the union, and the report suggested that the union’s diplomatic service does not take the country into account, let alone her interests. More worryingly, it found knowledge of languages of the region the représentative was posted to played no role in their appointment.

Catherine Ashton, head of the European External Action Service (EEAS), has said she is committed to providing adequate geographical and gender balance in recruiting staff for the agency. Up until now, however, that has hardly been the case. “We are dealing with an over-representation of citizens from 11 member states… while the representation of 16 member states, including Poland, is inadequate,” the PISM report said. Europe is not doing much on gender balance. According to the think tank, women are in charge of only one in 10 of the EU’s foreign “delegations”, as the de facto EU embassies are called.

Only this spring the Polish foreign ministry tried to push through the idea that every member state should have a representation in the EEAS proportional to its size. Out of the planned 3,000 jobs, Poles would have got some 240, including an estimated 10 ambassadorial posts. The other Central European countries, however, did not support the idea, seeing little sense in fighting for jobs in the EU diplomacy.

The EU diplomatic service, with an annual budget of 9.5 billion euros, was to become operative in spring 2010m as part of the Lisbon Treaty. As Ms Ashton has admitted, this is unlikely to happen before the end of year. The service is being formed according to the principle of “top jobs for longest-serving officials” – which effectively means the continued dominance “old” Europe.

In the East, a region crucial from Warsaw’s point of view, the diplomatic posts are run by officials from states not involved in the EU’s eastern policy. “In Africa and South America, the EU delegation head is often a citizen of a former colonial power or a country of related language or culture. In the former Soviet Union bloc, there are people without any ties with the région,” the PISM, which works for the Polish Foreign Ministry, claimed. A Spaniard represents the EU in Russia, a Portuguese official in Ukraine, an Italian in Armenia, and a Belgian in Azerbaijan. Besides Russia, all these countries are subject to the Eastern Partnership project, of which Poland is a patron.

But the whole system works in reverse when “old” EU bloc states interests are at stake, it claimed. In countries particularly important to them (their former colonies or countries participating in projects promoted by them, such as the Mediterranean Union), they have their own people in place. Spaniards run the EU delegations in Chile and Columbia, the head of the Brazilian delegation is Portuguese, and a Dutchman runs the post in South Africa. Seven out of the EU’s 15 ambassadors in the Mediterranean Union countries come from the Mediterranean themselves. “A practice exercised with respect to South America or Africa has not been applied in Eastern Europe,” conclude PISM, which works for the Polish foreign ministry.

Jean-Luc Dehaene, the former prime minister of Belgium, a country over-represented in the EU diplomacy, said the system needed to be reviewed, but only in five years’ time after Ms Ashton has completed her full term. If the trends described in the Polish think tank’s report continue, the EU diplomatic service shall indeed be critically reviewed – but only by the 15 states of the “old” EU. For now, the EEAS remains their exclusive club.

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