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Catherine Ashton

High Representative / Vice President

Speech to the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

European Parliament

Brussels, 23 March 2010

Mr. Chairman, Honourable Members,

 I am happy to be back in the European Parliament and in the Foreign Affairs Committee in particular.

 Today, we will debate the creation of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and I am also happy to brief you on the outcome of the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday. Let me start with the EEAS, so that we can cover the outcome of the FAC separately.

 Of course, the EEAS was also discussed yesterday, in a joint session of the Foreign Affairs and General Affairs Council. And we discussed this 2 weeks ago during the general foreign policy debate in the Plenary in Strasbourg. In this context, let me congratulate you, Chairman Albertini, on the overwhelming support your report on CFSP received during the vote.

 As I said in that debate: the creation of the EEAS is a huge chance for Europe.

 A once-in a generation opportunity to build something that finally brings together all the instruments of our engagement – economic and political instruments, development and crisis management tools – in support of a single political strategy.

 The watchwords ought to be: maximizing synergies, avoiding heavy procedures and strengthening our collective impact on the ground.

 The basic rationale for a strong EEAS is that we in Europe need to adapt to a world of growing complexity and fundamental power shifts.

 You all know the list of challenges we have to face: state fragility, regional conflicts, pandemics, energy security, climate change, illegal migration and many more.

 The real point is that all these issues are inter-linked. That is why we need comprehensive strategies. So we must have a system that promotes comprehensive strategies and joined-up action – not where, as today, we try to work comprehensively despite our system.

 As important: by making right kind of linkages between different policy areas we can build up European leverage. If you tackle issues in isolation and develop policies in stand-alone silos you will have less international influence.

 So, this is a moment to stick the original rationale of the Lisbon Treaty – to build a stronger and more effective EU foreign policy. We should not lower our ambitions but rather give ourselves the means to realise them.

 I know many in this House see it the same way. I very much appreciated the debate we had in the Plenary, which showed how close we are on the broad vision for the EEAS.

 We all want to have an External Action Service so that the EU can punch its weight on the world stage and take its global security responsibilities. We all want a Service that is broad in scope, covering the full range of EU external relations and that avoids duplication.

 So let me thank you for your support during that important debate.

 As you may know, the same afternoon I went to the Conference of Presidents and explained my vision for the EEAS. Although this was a closed meeting I think I can say that there was much support also in that forum for my intentions on the EEAS.

 Let me be clear from the outset. I know that the EP has some clear views on the EEAS - and you have a right to be involved. Not only are you going to give an opinion on the EEAS. But you also have an important role regarding the budget and you have co-decision power as far as the required changes to the Financial Regulation and the Staff regulation.

 The Parliament will have an increasing oversight role in the Union's external relations, including important aspects of CFSP. There can be no doubt about budgetary accountability of the EEAS to the Parliament. The EEAS and the officials working in it will be subject to the same type of financial control as if they were working in the Commission.

 Officials - whether they come from the institutions or from national foreign services will not only have the same rights, but also the same obligations. The influence of the EP will therefore not only be "ex ante" through the budget procedure, but also "ex post", through standard budget control procedures.

 I hope that we - once and for all -can put behind us the argument that the EEAS is less “communautaire” than the Commission, or that the creation of the EEAS is a step in the direction of “intergovernmentalisme” in external affaires.  The contrary is true. Every time the EEAS will be dealing with matters under the treaty on the Functioning of the European Union - what we in the old days called community matters - the service will fully respect the Community method - it will cooperate with the Commission services, as if the EEAS was a direction General of the Commission. And decisions in this area will continue to be Commission decisions or proposals taken by the College. On budget matters Parliaments role and influence will increase. There is no longer a “gentleman agreement” to limit Parliamentary insight and control.

I also want our delegations abroad to be active in serving the EP. Heads of delegations will be at your disposal when issues in relation to their host countries are examined by the European Parliament. I also envisage that each EU-delegation has a point of contact for the EP. Finally, all delegations in the EEAS will be instructed to support official visits by members of the EP.

 Furthermore, I have also offered that EUSRs and some of the most senior Heads of Delegations could come here to AFET for an informal exchange of views once they are formally appointed and before they take office. I believe the first example of this kind is today, when in two hours from now you will meet the new EUSR and HoD in Kabul, Mr. Usackas. In the near future you will also meet the new Head of Delegation in Washington.

I know that Development policy is a subject that all of you here assign great importance to.

I have made some concrete proposals for the External Action Service that I believe keep development policy where it belongs – at the heart of the European Union's external action.

I am proposing that we have single geographical desks covering the whole world. There is no reason why relations with some countries should be different to those with others. These horizontal desks will certainly not take away from competences that will continue to be pursued by the relevant services in the Commission. What they will do is give us a strategic overview.

I also believe that we must arrange programming in a particular way - we have to set them in political and economic context to be effective. This is why the EEAS must have the overview and its desks be responsible for strategic programming. Annual planning, project identification and implementation would remain with the Commission services, and our Delegations would be involved throughout.

This does not imply any shift in responsibilities. I will rely on Andris Piebalgs and Stefan Füle for their advice on development and neighbourhood policy. The EEAS will follow their guidance when preparing the strategic programming. And I hope they will listen to my suggestions in the later stages. In the final instance, programme proposals made will be jointly proposed by me with the relevant Commissioners and will be submitted to the College.

Throughout this process, we will be jointly accountable to the European Parliament.

The democratic scrutiny process, by which you exercise oversight over our cooperation programmes, adds legitimacy to our policies and will be maintained

The European Parliament will play its full role in the external action of the Union, including its action of political control as provided for in the treaty. I will consult regularly the European Parliament on the main aspects and the basic choices of the CFSP and will ensure that the views of the EP are duly taken into consideration.

Having spoken about the important role of the Parliament, I must however underline that you are not the only stakeholder. As is well-known the creation of the EEAS will require the backing of the Commission and agreement in the Council of all Member States.

Finding an agreement among these different protagonists is not easy.

But I think it is feasible, if all show good will and some flexibility.

I will suggest to the Presidency - once each institution have had time to digest my legal proposal - that the necessary framework be set up for negotiations between the four stakeholders - the EP, the Council, the Commission and myself – and that all elements be put on the table in this discussion. We all have to work hard to come to a rapid conclusion.

 In all of this, collective buy-in and constant cooperation are needed, with the services across the Commission, the Member-States and an open dialogue with you in the EP.

To put it bluntly: it is called a Service for a reason. It will be there not only to assist me but also to serve the President and Members of the Commission, especially the RELEX family, and the President of the European Council, and of course the Member-States and European Parliament.

 I am sure you will have lots of specific questions on external assistance programmes, on the draft organigramme, on EP prerogatives for the CFSP budget; and on the role and place of the crisis management structures. I am happy to try to answer.

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