Ratifying Lisbon: what could it mean for ‘the field’?

Development Policy01 Oct 2009Niels Keijzer, Jeske van Seters

As is normal to any prospective analysis, considering the future role of Europe in the world is accompanied by a large degree of both possibilities and uncertainty. The consequences of the results of the second Irish referendum notwithstanding, European policy makers have been debating the likely institutional changes and other implications of the Lisbon Treaty for EU development cooperation, and the media has been more than occupied with discussing both likely and unlikely candidates of the possible new EU top political jobs.

In the article by Engel, Maxwell, Messer and Schori, the decisions to be made on the future arrangement are summed up well: “If the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, there will also be a new post of president of the European Council; a new and more powerful high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, who will also be vice-president of the European Commission; and a new, jointly owned diplomatic service, the European External Action Service.”

Whereas important discussions have taken place already and will be needed in subsequent months in determining both the role and the relative weight of EU development policy in relation to these new people and the new External Action Service (EAS), there has so far been relatively little attention been paid to the consequences of any changes in Brussels for the cooperation between the EU member states and the Commission on the ‘ground’.

First of all, it has been agreed that the future staff members of the External Action Service will consist of members of the Council Secretariat, the Commission and seconded diplomats from the member states. The EAS aims at improving the Union’s political profile and increasing its capacity to act consistently on the world scene, under the leadership of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. By doing so, the EAS will be heading all areas of the EU’s external policies and as such has the potential to strengthen the linkages between them.

As ratifying Lisbon would mean that the EU will attain a legal personality, the Delegations of the European Commission will become ‘Union Delegations’ and be enabled to formally represent the EU. Under the authority of the High Representative, the Delegations will need to cooperate closely with the member states’ representations, and ensure that the EU’s policies are complied with and implemented. The Lisbon Treaty will also require the Delegations to “contribute to formulating” these policies, hence implying a much more formal role at this level. With the ratification of the Treaty, sustainable development and the eradication of poverty reduction will become part of the overall objective of EU external action, thereby strengthening the EU commitment to policy coherence for development (PCD) and the need for the Delegations to include development considerations in all their interventions. As part of this new responsibility, it could be considered to also give the responsibility to Delegations to monitor progress towards PCD in relation to new EU priorities that will be decided in the Council later this year, in order to better inform policy making processes in Europe (More info, see Koeb, E. (2008) Briefing Note: the Lisbon Treaty ).

All in all, the above indicates that there will be much to do for the possible future EU Delegations. Noting that the present European Commission Delegations are quite tightly (and sometimes insufficiently) staffed, the Delegations will likely require many additional staff members, and perhaps require both versatile diplomats and highly skilled specialists. How can an adequate ‘portfolio’ be guaranteed, and will there be enough room for effective management of development cooperation with such a large number of new areas of responsibility? And will all these areas and responsibilities be manageable for one single Head of Delegation?

Different measures can be considered to equip the Delegations with the appropriate tools to fulfil their role. This includes changing the recruitment procedures, secondment of skilled specialists from EU Member States, and effective mechanisms to get input from and report to the European Development Commissioner (even if Delegations work under the authority of the High Representative).

We would be very interested in reading other peoples’ views on these, and related, issues.