“Building an airplane while flying it” – or how the EEAS took off

Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroek
Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroek

In July the European External Action Service (EEAS) published the long-awaited review of its two-year existence. Frank, self-scrutinizing and with a foreword by High Representative Lady Catherine Ashton herself, the performance review is no self-flattery, but an honest assessment of the services’ achievements, shortcomings and lessons learned.

The panel, organized by FNF to give voice to both the recognition of Ashton’s achievements and the critique of EEAS’ shortcomings, was full of praise for the High Representative. Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroek MEP began her remarks by pointing out that the notion of an “EU Foreign Policy” was not envisioned by the European Communities from the outset but first mentioned in the Maastricht Treaty. Thus, we shouldn’t lose sight of just how young this idea is. She further praised Ashton, who “has accomplished a remarkable feat by setting up a functioning service in under a year.”

Michael Zilmer-Johns, Special Advisor for Security and Defense at the European External Action Service and former Danish Under-Secretary of State, who has had to hear and read much criticism of his employer in the past months, echoed the MEPs sentiments, adding that often by-standers are not sufficiently realistic about what is actually doable. He likened the creation of the EEAS to the experience of building an airplane while flying it. Since it is the sum of 28 foreign policy approaches, the EEAS can never be and was never designed to be like the State Department.

Puhl, Zilmer-Johns, Neyts-Uyttebroek, Weiss (from left), Stein (standing)
Puhl, Zilmer-Johns, Neyts-Uyttebroek, Weiss (from left), Stein (standing)

Individual political sensibilities, we learned from Dr Detlef Puhl, Senior Advisor in the Emerging Security Challenges Division at NATO, not only make the formulation of a coherent Foreign Policy impossible, but also prevent joint steps towards Security Policy between the EU and NATO. While EU-NATO relations are much better than only a decade ago, with increasingly frequent, open and cooperative contacts on all working-levels, divisions created by the Cyprus-Greece-Turkey issue prevent even closer alignment of policies.

In the end what matters most are results, rather than declarations: “Ashton has achieved a firmer position on Israel than any single Member State and is negotiating with Iran on behalf of the rest of the world,” Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroek MEP summed up the discussion.

The discussion was moderated by Stefani Weiss, Director of Europe’s Future at the Bertelsmann Stiftung in Brussels.

Susan Schneider