Evaluating the Diplomatic System of the European Union

Date: Tuesday, 28th February, 2012
Venue: Fondation Universitaire, rue d'Egmont 11, Brussels

Conference Report

The final conference of the Jean Monnet Multilateral Research Network ‘The Diplomatic System of the European Union: Evolution, Change and Challenges’ was held at the Fondation Universitaire in Brussels on Tuesday 28th February 2012.

The aim of the conference was to bring together findings from the two and a half years of the project, and to present them for comment and discussion to an audience of academics, officials both from the EU and from non-EU countries, media representatives and representatives of non-governmental organisations such as think-tanks and pressure groups working in the Brussels context.

An audience of around one hundred and forty participants gathered to hear presentations by members of the core project partners and to undertake discussion of the current state and future evolution of the EU’s emerging system of diplomacy. In advance of the conference, a set of three Policy Papers had been prepared and circulated by the project partners, and these formed the basis of discussion in two of the conference sessions; in the final session, Robert Cooper, Counsellor to Baroness Catherine Ashton at the European External Action Service, gave an address on the prospects for the EEAS and for EU diplomacy more generally.

In introducing the conference, Professor Michael Smith outlined the initial aims of the project, the nature of the network that had been constructed and especially of the core partners – the universities of Loughborough, Leuven and Maastricht – and their contributions. He also noted the range of activities and events that had been undertaken by the network, and the way in which the network had used the resources both of the partners and those provided by the Jean Monnet Project, without which the building and development of the network would not have been possible. Finally, he outlined the programme for the conference and the opportunities it would present for in-depth discussion of the issues around which it centred.

The first session of the conference focused on ‘Institutions and Practices in the Diplomatic System of the EU’, and was based on the Policy Paper produced by Professor Sophie Vanhoonacker and Dr Karolina Pomorska from Masstricht University, together with Dr Simon Duke from the European Institute of Public Administration (EIPA) also in Maastricht. The Paper discussed the issues that had arisen in the first year of the EEAS, and identified a number of policy recommendations, as follows:

  • Completion of the process of national diplomats, with special attention to adequate geographical and gender balance.
  • Further refinement and operationalization of a training strategy for both Brussels-based officials and those in delegations.
  • More transparent and effective intra- and inter-institutional cooperation.
  • Further strengthening of the linkage between policy and instruments.
  • Greater strategic direction from Brussels for EU delegations.
  • Promotion of a comprehensive approach in relation to conflict prevention, crisis management and peace-building.

The paper and its recommendations were debated by a panel of discussants including David Spence (London School of Economics and Political Science, ex-European Commission), Jan Wouters (Jean Monnet Chair in EU and Global Governance and Director of the Leuven Institute for Global Governance Studies), and Christian Leffler (Managing Director Americas, EEAS). Attention focused especially on the ways in which the EEAS could promote its status within the EU’s system of diplomacy, and the ways in which it could bring benefits both to Member States and to the profile of the Union in general. It was noted that the demands on the EEAS during its initial year were wide-ranging and often severe, since external crisis coincided with internal change. The role of the EEAS should be to strategize, to inform and to coordinate, but at times institutional and other barriers to this had obstructed its activities. Nonetheless, it was possible to identify ways in which the Service could improve its provision of services to other institutions and its capacity to coordinate the Union’s approach in specific issue areas.

The second session focused on two modes of EU diplomatic action: strategic diplomacy and structural diplomacy. With regard to strategic diplomacy, the Policy Paper had been prepared by Professor David Allen and Professor Michael Smith (both from Loughborough University). Its key policy recommendations were as follows:

  • The EU should expand its list of strategic partners and limit the agenda items for bilateral meetings with those partners.
  • The EU should reconsider the relationship between bilateral and multilateral strategic partnerships.
  • The role of the EEAS in maintaining the infrastructure of strategic partnerships should be recognised.
  • The President of the European Council (PEC) should make better use of the EEAS and of the HRVP’s role as Vice-President of the Commission in developing strategic partnerships.
  • The PEC should further exploit his relationships with third-country leaders and should encourage EU Member State leaders to resist unilateral initiatives in respect of the EU’s strategic partners.
  • The external relations work of the European Commission should be better integrated with that of the EEAS.
  • Bilateral summits with strategic partners should be reviewed and reconsidered.
  • The EU should reconsider its conservative attitude towards the reform of global governance institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank.
  • The role of the European Parliament in scrutinising the EU’s diplomatic activities should be recognised and better appreciated.

From this, it can be seen that the discussion of strategic diplomacy ranged beyond the EEAS to include modes of coordination across EU institutions and agencies.

Alongside the Policy paper on strategic diplomacy, there was also presented a paper on structural diplomacy, authored by Professor Stephan Keukeleire (University of Leuven/College of Europe) and Arnout Justaert (University of Leuven). The key policy recommendations of this paper were:

  • The EEAS and EU delegations should focus on the structural impact of their policies and activities in relation to third countries.
  • There should be a holistic approach to policy-making within the EU’s system of diplomacy, recognising the nature of the interests of third parties at a variety of levels.
  • The EEAS and other bodies should foster more effective cooperation between and within EU institutions as well as with EU Member States in pursuing structural diplomacy.
  • The EU should align its policies as closely as possible with those of third parties, so as to maximise their impact and the leverage of the Union.

The concentration of structural diplomacy on local and operational issues in pursuit of EU diplomacy provided an important counterpoint to the more strategic and large-scale issues dealt with in the Allen and Smith Policy Paper.

The panel of discussants for both papers consisted of Professor Richard Whitman (University of Kent), Dr Steven Everts (Cabinet of Baroness Ashton, EEAS) and Toby Vogel (Reporter, European Voice). Their contributions raised or developed a number of major issues around the formulation and implementation of EU diplomatic action, including the need to enhance both the ‘hardware’ and the ‘software’ of EU diplomatic action in pursuit of diplomatic leverage; the criteria for ‘success’ in evaluating both strategic and structural diplomacy; the effects of broader change in the world arena on the opportunities open to the EU, for example in the changing nature of US-China relations and US-Asia relations more generally; the need for not just coordination but also leadership in pursuing EU diplomacy; the problems of resources and their availability in the pursuit of both strategic and structural; diplomacy; and the continuing importance of Member States’ national diplomacies in a number of key areas.

The closing session of the conference, as noted above, saw an address from Robert Cooper, who had arrived at the conference fresh from intense negotiations over the relationship between Serbia and Kosovo. He discussed his role and that of the EEAS in facilitating and supporting these negotiations, which were vital both to the stability of the western Balkans and to the membership perspective for Serbia. One key theme that emerged from this and from the subsequent discussion was the growing interaction between the EEAS and such bodies as DG Enlargement, and the creation of a multi-disciplinary team to further the negotiations. Alongside this, the importance of key member States players such as Germany and Austria was apparent, and those with the USA as part of an ‘extended team’ were of considerable significance. The emergence of a process of ‘facilitative dialogue’ could be seen as emblematic of the developing role of the EEAS in such areas of diplomatic activity.

This address, delivered by a key member of the EEAS and with the authority derived from intimate involvement in the actuality of EU diplomacy, formed a highly appropriate final component of the conference, and enabled the participants to relate their earlier discussions about institutions and modes of diplomatic activity to the reality of international negotiations in highly sensitive areas.

The conference was the final EU-funded activity of the network as currently configured, but there are plans to continue with activities and events during the next period, and to continue with the series of Policy Papers and with the project web site. The Policy Papers presented at the conference are available here, the conference programme here, profiles of all speakers and discussants here and the full list of conference participants can be accessed here.

Professor Michael Smith
Loughborough University

logos Maastricht University Kathoieke Universiteit Leuven Centre for the Study of International Governance Loughborough University Education and Culture DG

Contact DSEU

Tel: +44 (0)1509 222991
Fax: +44 (0)1509 223917
Email: dseu@lboro.ac.uk