Mr Ian Boag is a British diplomat and former Head of the Commission Delegations in Morocco, Brazil, Egypt and Ukraine.
On 11 February 2011, Mr Boag delivered a lecture to the students of the College of Europe on “The Creation of the EEAS and the Changing Role of Commission/EU Delegations”. On such occasion, the Development Office interviewed Mr Boag about his experience and views concerning the current establishment of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the professional training needs of its staff.
“Building an ‘esprit de corps’ is a key training need for the EEAS staff”
Mr Boag, in your opinion, what are the challenges ahead in terms of professional training needs of the staff working at the newly created EEAS?
The staff of the EEAS is composed by personnel of two European Institutions, the European Commission and the General Secretariat of the Council of the EU, and diplomats of the 27 EU Member States of the EEAS. The future staff of the EEAS did not have any common background and training. The launch of the EEAS is now a great opportunity to learn from the past and move forward in fostering a “one and indivisible” external action service, having all its personnel members acting and working together as a team. For the time being, the EEAS has organised a basic training programme that should enable its staff to arrive well-prepared to their positions. Major challenges ahead are the provision of adequate language training, especially for non-EU languages such as Russian or Arabic, as well as the provision of management training for the Heads of Delegations and senior staff. What is most important is that the EEAS will only be successful if its members do not consider themselves as separate groups, but develop an “esprit de corps” and act as a whole, regardless of their different backgrounds. This is the key challenge for the next years.
Will the EEAS enable the EU to “speak with one single voice”?
This is what the Treaty of Lisbon says. Its entry into force brought about major changes in the external relations of the EU, notably with the creation of the office of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission, while specifying that this person would be assisted by the EEAS. Furthermore, the European Commission Delegations in third countries have now been transformed into Delegations of the European Union. What does it mean? It means that the role of the Delegations, and particularly the role of the Heads of Delegations, has significantly changed. There is an important difference between political reporting, one of the major functions of the Delegations before, and political representation of the EU. Some people argue that the creation of the EEAS is a sufficient step for the EU to play a role in the world. In my opinion, however necessary, it is not sufficient. A great deal of coordination is now needed, and information sharing between the EU Headquarters in Brussels and the EU Delegations becomes crucial and necessary to make the EEAS a coherent organisation. As a matter of fact, internal coordination within the EEAS and with the other EU institutions will also be challenging, but it is essential that the EU can develop an efficient external action service and become a real actor in external relations. This will take still some time.
When do you think the EEAS would be partially or fully operational?
The EEAS is already operational, all the key-responsibilities and senior management positions have been filled in and staff from the Directorate-General for External Relations of the European Commission and from the General Secretariat of the Council of the EU have been transferred to the Service as of 1 of January this year. Nevertheless it might take a longer time for the EEAS to be fully operational than expected, but it should not be a problem, and it is not surprising that the EU needs more time to establish such a complex new organism.
Mr Boag, you have participated as a guest speaker at the Executive Training for the EEAS organised by the Development Office of the College of Europe in September last year, would you have some recommendations for improvement?
The content of the programme was very good although the timing was too premature and little was known about the EEAS at the time, as the Council Decision establishing the organisation and functioning of the Service had just been published few weeks before the training took place. However it went into the right direction; it provided the opportunity for national diplomats and European Commission officials to share best experiences and learn from each other, anticipating what creating a common diplomatic culture will bring in the future.