30 September 2015

The European External Action Service is ripe for change

The crisis in Ukraine and the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa are just two of the events that put the EU’s handling of foreign affairs to the test in 2014. A new study from FOI focuses on civil crisis response within the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy and how this work could be improved.

Since its establishment in 2010, the so-called European External Action Service marked a step forward for the EU’s role as a foreign policy actor. It has been significant in the context of the improved coordination of European crisis response, both civilian and military. During 2013-14, however, some shortcomings have been highlighted in a number of research articles. Aspects criticised have included lack of clarity between areas of responsibility, institutional overlaps, territoriality both within the European External Action Service and between different EU actors. Despite the attention drawn by FOI to some of these shortcomings as early as 2012, Brussels has done little to improve the situation.

A new report by FOI highlights problems in coordination between the External Action Service and the EU Commission. Among other things, views differ as to how successful the handling of the Ebola outbreak has been. A number of respondents in the External Action Service believe that it has been a fiasco. At the same time, respondents in the EU Commission point to the speed at which both personnel and financial resources were made available.

In the report FOI points in particular to the Department for Crisis Response and Operational Coordination (CROC) as a problem area. Among other things, CROC has been given excessive leeway in the interpretation of its mandate while being given very little in the way of clear goals by the EU Council. The problem area most often cited is the coordination at the various levels between different actors.

At present this work is complicated by the fact that the planning and implementation of the European External Action Service’s operations is split between two functions, namely Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability (CPCC) and the Crisis Management and Planning Directorate (CMPD). In this report, as a solution to this problem, FOI suggests new structures that should help to avoid internal competition and work duplication.

In the report FOI also states its view that the present situation is ripe for change. This is mainly because of the changes that have taken place in the top echelons of the EU during 2014. It has also been announced that the effects of current work on structural reform should begin to have a visible effect during 2015.