The EU assembly showed its strength by adopting a strong-worded statement following the Conference of Presidents of its political groups, making clear that no agreement on the nature of the European External Action Service (EEAS) had been reached.
Intergovernmental vs communitarian
"The Parliament believes that the Service should be more communitarian than inter-governmental in character, and this is why the Parliament insists that it is attached to the Commission. […] The Parliament will continue to strongly defend this position," the statement reads.
According to the political group leaders, "in these times of increasing intergovernmentalism it is of the utmost importance to ensure that Community policies are not intergovernamentalised. Ensuring the Communitarian nature of the EEAS is essential".
They further expressed concern over the coherence between legal situations governing the areas of responsibility of the HRVP, as Ashton's post is called in euro-jargon (High Representative-Vice President of the Commission). Parliament leaders also indicated that they would not bow to time pressure.
EU leaders had asked Ashton to present a proposal for establishing the EEAS, with a view to its adoption by the end of April 2010. This deadline was not met and the institutions now refrain from mentioning target dates.
Some external relations policy, namely common foreign and security policy, is intergovernmental. All other sectors, including neighbourhood policy and aid to third countries, are Community policies decided upon by the Commission.
"All that must be aggregated into one single Service. How to organise it without changing the current balance of the EU is a complicated task," argued Elmar Brok, a veteran German MEP (European People's Party; Germany) who is coordinating the Parliament's response to Ashton's proposals together with former Belgian Prime Minister and leader of the ALDE liberal group Guy Verhostadt.
In search of deputies
Brok argues that Ashton's deputies for the Communitarian area of the Service's activity should be the relevant commissioners: Štefan Füle, the Czech commissioner for enlargement, Andris Piebalgs, his Latvian colleague responsible for development, and Kristalina Georgieva, the Bulgarian commissioner for humanitarian aid (see EurActiv 15/03/10).
For common foreign and security policy, Brok insists that Ashton's deputies should be "politically accountable". He was adamant that "they can't be just European officials".
One of the ideas for putting in place "accountable" deputies is to involve the foreign ministers of the country holding the rotating EU presidency, or ministers highly specialised in a certain geographic area, such as Spain's Miguel Angel Moratinos for the Middle East.
Brok also said that the Parliament was unhappy about the mix of EEAS personnel, insisting that at least half of the staff should come from the Commission, because the Service would also deal with Community policies.
Last week, in a debate involving national parliaments, MPs from Poland, Latvia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, as well as MEPs including Poland's Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (EPP), stressed the need to achieve a degree of geographical balance in the staff of the EEAS (see EurActiv 25/03/10).
They pointed out that, of the 1,800 staff due to join the EEAS - 1,100 from the Commission's directorate general for external relations (DG RELEX) and 700 from the Council - citizens of the 'new' member states are under-represented.
No deal, no money
The European Parliament has no co-decision powers regarding the EEAS, but is competent regarding its budget.
"The Parliament is competent for the budget. That means that the Service can't have any staff if the Parliament doesn't approve its budget," Brok warned.
In the meantime, EurActiv has learned that examination procedures for appointing high-level staff from member states, including the EU newcomers, at ambassador level have already been taking place.