Fit for Purpose?

The European External Action Service, one year on

Publication date: 23 January 2012
Author: Dr. Steven Blockmans, Head of Research at the T.M.C. Asser Institute, Special Visiting Professor at the University of Leuven, Natalia Alonso, Head of Oxfam International's EU office, and Tidhar Wald, Oxfam International's EU Humanitarian Policy Advisor

The first anniversary of the European External Action Service (EEAS) finds the European Union (EU) in the midst of a financial and identity crisis that has precipitated Europe’s ongoing decline on the global stage. The new diplomatic service is a work in progress. This gives the EU the opportunity to address its shortcomings in foreign policy and bring greater coherence to external policy making. This means enhancing consistency across EU instruments and adopting a more thorough and strategic approach to global challenges.

In its first year, the EEAS has been learning by doing, for example by responding to the revolutionary changes brought about by the Arab Spring; the political instability and humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa; and the ongoing shifts in the global balance of power.

Drawing on the experience gained by both Oxfam and its partners on the ground, this paper intends to shed a first light on the strengths and weaknesses of the new EEAS: with the right institutional set-up and vision, and with  the full support of Member States, the EEAS could represent a contribution to, rather than a deviation from, the EU’s stated aims to promote European values and champion an international order based on respect for human rights and international law.

The findings in this paper clearly show that in the changing global balance of power, only an EU foreign policy driven by these values can help deliver the EU’s strategic interests and build its reputation and credibility as a leader in finding solutions to global problems.

Key recommendations from the report:

  • Lay out a vision that pinpoints where the EU wants to be in 2015 as a global actor. This vision – driven by EU values such as respect for democracy, human rights and international humanitarian law – will deliver on the EU’s interests, building its reputation and credibility as a partner in developing solutions to global problems. This vision will provide clarity on the role of the EEAS, give it a sense of purpose and renew its standing vis-à-vis Member States.
  • Draw up a roadmap for EU foreign policy that can underpin this vision and guide external action, to make sure it champions poverty eradication within a rules-based international order. This strategy requires strong co-operation between EU institutions and complete support from Member States if it is to make sure that the EEAS can carry out the EU’s ambitious Lisbon Treaty mandate in the world. 
  • Be more proactive, fit all EU external policies into one overall strategy, and guide contingency plans for future developments. Such an overarching strategy will include the following basic principles on which to build operational strategies: uphold universal values, set mutual accountability, foster multilateral solutions, engage with civil society, and promote a gender perspective so that policies are informed by their possible impact on women. These principles would guide both thematic and geographical strategies and connect them in a coherent way.