Catherine Ashton Presents the New EU Diplomatic Service

The Wall Street Journal (by Catherine Ashton) Let me start with a confession: The European Union’s critics are sometimes right. The EU can be too slow, too cumbersome and too bureaucratic. I want to help to put that right in the way the EU works with the rest of the world.

Our project has an ungainly name, the European External Action Service (EAS), but a bold and simple purpose: to give the EU a stronger voice around the world, and greater impact on the ground.

In my first six months as the EU’s high representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, I have seen for myself what the EU can do when we pull together: In Gaza where EU-funded schools are giving an education and dignity to hundreds of girls and boys, and where we are ready to do more to help end the blockade; in Haiti where we are giving shelter to the homeless and helping the government with its strategy for long-term reconstruction; in the Balkans where we are promoting political and economic reforms and preparing the region’s countries to join the EU; and in East Africa where we our naval operation is deterring and capturing pirates at sea while our teams are working on-shore to help bring stability to Somalia and development to the region.

We do a lot to promote security, to protect the vulnerable, and to root out poverty. But too much depends on ad-hoc arrangements and the creativity of individuals. We achieve comprehensive strategies despite our structures, not because of them.

Until now, EU work around the world has been guided by two masters: the External Affairs Commissioner and the Council’s High Representative. There has been one chain of command for our development efforts, and a completely separate chain of command for our security activities. Too often good people have been hampered by poor systems.

That is why it matters that the 27 member states of the European Union, each with a proud history in foreign affairs, have given their backing to the creation of a unified EAS, following the earlier endorsement by the European Parliament and the European Commission.

It is not easy to get the EU’s three main institutions to agree. All the more so when it comes to setting up a new structure, moving people into new roles, adjusting budgets, and changing the way we prepare and take decisions. Usually in the EU, institutional change of this order only happens once every 25 years or so.

But the real significance of yesterday’s decision lies outside Brussels. Our aim is to do foreign policy in a modern way, differently and better. Not to compete with or duplicate what our member states are doing, but to add value and play to our strength of acting as a union. That is how we can best make a difference on the ground and, over time, enhance global security and stability.

In particular, we need to tackle the two main areas where we are under-performing: First, get more unity amongst EU member states to bring our combined political weight to bear; second, develop more integrated strategies, so that we are more effective on the ground.

If we can do both, Europe will be able to play its full part in addressing the many challenges that affect global security and prosperity. The key word in that sentence is global. We live in a world where challenges and change are global in nature, as are their consequences. Terrorism, organized crime and the proliferation of weapons; energy security, climate change and the competition for natural resources; trade, investment and financial flows: These are all global phenomena. All of them also happen to be complex and interlinked.

So to respond to challenges that are global and complex, only integrated strategies will do. The value of the EAS will lie in its being able to bring together the many levers of influence that the European Union has—economic and political, plus civil and military crisis management tools—in support of a single political strategy. More than any other actor in the world today, the EU will be able to mobilize such a wide a range of instruments, with the weight and legitimacy of 27 democratic countries behind it.

This is not, as some critics say, a grab for power; but it is, unashamedly, a grab for effectiveness. The EAS can make a positive difference—and I am determined that it will.

Catherine Ashton is the European Union’s high representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

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