The leadership of the European Parliament is preparing to put a deal on the European Union’s diplomatic service to a vote by the entire Parliament within a fortnight.
The Parliament’s negotiators reached agreement in principle on the European External Action Service (EEAS) in Madrid on Monday (21 June) with Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief. The leaders of the Parliament’s political groups are to decide next Thursday (1 July) whether to fast-track a plenary vote so that it can take place when the Parliament next meets in Strasbourg (5-8 July).
Roberto Gualtieri, an Italian centre-left MEP who was one of Parliament’s lead negotiators on the subject, said that it was politically “very important” to hold a vote in July before the summer break, but said that it would create “great time pressure” on MEPs.
The Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) are in favour of a July vote on the initial decision to set up the EEAS, leaving the finer details on reworking the financial and staff regulations and amending the 2010 EU budget for September. The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) also appears to be leaning in that direction.
Monday’s compromise, which ended months of wrangling between MEPs and Ashton, strengthens MEPs’ political and budgetary control over the service. The EEAS will have its own administrative budget, subject to parliamentary oversight, while operational expenditure will remain with the European Commission, where it is already subject to parliamentary oversight. The service will have 1,625 officials by the end of the year – 1,114 transferred from the Commission, 411 from the Council of Ministers and 100 new posts. Its draft budget for 2010 amounts to €9.5 million.
Some MEPs on the budgets and budgetary control committees are not convinced that the assurances given by Ashton are strong enough, however.
Ingeborg Grässle, a German centre-right member of the committees, said that she doubted that all the legal decisions required for the EEAS to begin its work could be adopted by July or even September. She said that the three negotiators – Gualtieri, Elmar Brok, a German centre-right MEP, and Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian Liberal MEP – had no mandate to agree a compromise on behalf of Parliament.
Grässle is concerned about how the heads of the Union’s delegations abroad can be held accountable for Commission funds spent under their supervision. Delegations will often be headed by diplomats from member states who will return to their national services after their tour of duty with the EEAS.
Grässle is demanding that heads of delegations submit an annual statement on the funds spent by their delegations, something that the member states have resisted.
Hervé Jouanjean, the director-general of the Commission’s budget department, told the Parliament’s budgets committee that such assurances were required given how much spending on development and neighbourhood policy was implemented by delegations.
Jouanjean said that the Commission was fully behind the MEPs’ efforts to strengthen financial accountability but urged Parliament to adopt the decisions on the EEAS “promptly”.
“I would remind you that our partners in third countries…are beginning to become impatient and it could undermine the credibility of the service,” he said.
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