Sieglinde Gstöhl about training for EU Diplomacy: Knowledge, Skills and Networks


Sieglinde Gstöhl is Director of Studies as well as Professor in the EU International Relations and Diplomacy Department at the College of Europe in Bruges. Ahead of the European Diplomacy Seminar taking place from 8-12 October, we asked Professor Gstöhl to explain why joint training on EU diplomacy is of huge importance and how diplomacy changed after the establishment of the EEAS.


With the end of the Cold War and the emergence of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), the External Service of the European Commission’s began to develop rapidly. Within a decade the number of Commission Delegations doubled. Unlike national embassies, the Delegations did not consist of professional diplomats but mainly of regular civil servants from the Commission’s “RELEX family” DGs. Therefore, various training initiatives have been developed since the mid-1990s to better prepare in particular those officials who were going to work abroad. The need for training culminated in the post-Lisbon creation of the European External Action Service (EEAS) in 2011. With staff from various EU institutions, national diplomats and local agents, this Service has considerably grown in size and diversity. As a fledgling EU foreign ministry the EEAS has also acquired new tasks, and the role of Delegations has extended from project management implementing Community aid to representing the Union’s interests on a broad range of issues. As a result, training for EU diplomacy has become paramount.


Whereas EU officials require training in diplomacy and diplomatic practice, civil servants seconded from national ministries need training in the policies and procedures of the EU and have to adapt to a multicultural environment. Other dimensions are added by the fact that military personnel is part of the EEAS or that local agents work in Delegations. Training serves to impart knowledge, to cultivate diplomatic skills and to socialise participants into a collective identity or ’esprit de corps’. Although in recent years it has often been suggested to set up an own European Diplomatic Academy, EU member states instead opted for building on existing practices and structures at national and Union levels. They cherish their diverse national traditions of diplomatic training and are wary of the resources that an academy would require.


Hence, for the time being, EEAS training is based on courses that the Service organises itself, on access to the training offer of the other EU institutions and CFSP entities, and on partnerships with member states and other actors such as international organisations or external service providers. The weaknesses of such an approach rest in particular in the lack of coordination and of a joint curriculum, the risk of duplication, the absence of a clear training strategy and the need for a firm quality assurance mechanism. To meet the diverse needs of EEAS staff, a common induction programme would have to be complemented by tailored activities that stress knowledge of EU (external) policies, diplomacy and regions, as well as competences for specific functions such as political reporting, protocol, public diplomacy, financial management, negotiations, project management cycle, open intelligence or protective security. Moreover, Delegation staff requires special pre-posting training and access to distance learning resources.


Besides the post-Lisbon reforms of the EU’s External Service, the changing nature of diplomacy itself is calling for new topics and forms of diplomatic training. Diplomacy in the 21st century is best characterised as multi-stakeholder network diplomacy, and the role of the professional diplomat is being transformed from a “gatekeeper” to a facilitator, coordinator or manager of complex networks that may inter alia include professionals from other ministries and international organisations, from transnational companies or civil society. Today multinational corporations demand diplomatic training, specialised NGO diplomats are included in national delegations of least developed countries, and diplomats rotate between careers in academia, business and government. In addition, the rise of new technologies and social media has opened new channels of communication, and public diplomacy has become increasingly important.


The most effective solution for the formation of an ‘esprit de corps’, while ensuring training in relevant knowledge and skills, is to bring together all trainees for an extended period of time, ideally located away from work to avoid distraction. Joint training of EU officials and national diplomats, for example, is likely to induce important socialisation effects in terms of EU officials becoming sensitised towards national concerns and national diplomats learning about common European interests. In addition, modern diplomats must share their competence with other actors, coordinate and facilitate networks, while inserting political understanding and coherence into complex problems. Training for EU diplomacy must enable trainees to better understand EU policies and positions and to effectively communicate them, to further develop professional and personal skills and to network.


At the College of Europe, two programmes are particularly pertinent to the study and training of EU diplomacy: for young graduates the advanced “MA in EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies” provides in-depth knowledge of the European Union as a global actor as well as skills in international negotiations and diplomacy in an intensive one-year study programme in a multinational context. For professionals from the public and private sectors, the College’s Development Office offers highly interactive executive trainings such as the “EU Diplomacy week”, which is designed to learn more about EU external action after the launching of the European External Action Service in both knowledge-based and skills-oriented courses, to share personal experiences and to extend professional networks.


By Sieglinde Gstöhl, Director, EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies, College of Europe


Further reading: S. Gstöhl, “European Union Diplomacy: What Role for Training?”, EU Diplomacy Paper, 3/2012

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