If anyone had any doubts that putting together the European Union’s new diplomatic service would be an utterly messy task, that is now an undisputed fact. A high-profile ambassadorial list released this week provoked publicly aired quarrels rather uncharacteristic of diplomats, and it raised questions about the future effectiveness of the EU corps.
The long-anticipated list, unveiled by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Brussels, was apparently based not on merit, but on what Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski called “esoteric considerations.”
What are those? A quick look at the list shows that the most important ambassadorships are going to diplomats from the oldest EU members in the West — China was given to the Germans, Japan to the Austrians and South Africa to the Dutch. What about less important but plush posts? Of those, the Spanish got Argentina and Singapore went to Luxembourg.
So the considerations Sikorski referred to had more to do with where the diplomats come from, rather than what they can accomplish in their respective positions. “Appointments should be made on merit,” he said. “We in the new member-countries have people who speak the languages of the former Soviet Union, we have expertise there.”
Four posts out of 29 went to diplomats from Central and Eastern Europe. Despite Sikorski’s protest, Poland did better than any other former communist country, winning South Korea and Jordan. The Bulgarians got Georgia, and Afghanistan had gone to the Lithuanians earlier.
“I have appointed the best people for the right jobs,” said Ashton, whose official title is EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, as well as vice president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive body. She was also criticized for choosing only eight women.
“We have made a start to address the important issues of geographical and gender balance,” Ashton said in an apparent admission that those problems are not yet resolved.
The nominees, who have to be approved by the European Parliament, may be the “best people” for the jobs from their country, but it’s questionable whether they are the best from any EU state. It’s not clear, either, that the top criteria during the selection process were actually skills, qualifications and experience.
“We are deeply disappointed,” said Slovenian Foreign Minister Samuel Zbogar. “We expected more transparent decisions and that geographic balance would be taken into account, in particular for those states, like Slovenia, which have no presence at all in the EU’s foreign institutions.”
Creating the European External Action Service — the diplomatic corps’ official name — is a daunting task, and Ashton has an impossible job. She won’t be able to please everyone even if she really wants to. But more consultation with Eastern European members would go a long way.
If there is hostility among diplomats from different countries even before the foreign service’s launch, which is expected in December, it will likely affect trust and their ability to work together at the dozens of missions they are setting up around the world.
Here is the full list released by Ashton’s office on Wednesday:
China — Markus Ederer (Germany)
Japan — Hans Dietmar Schweisgut (Austria)
South Africa — Roeland van de Geer (Netherlands)
Afghanistan — Vygaudas Usackas (Lithuania)
Albania — Ettore Sequi (Italy)
Argentina — Alfonso Diez Torres (Spain)
Macedonia — Peter Sorensen (Denmark)
Bangladesh — William Hanna (Ireland)
Jordan — Joanna Wronecka (Poland)
Uganda — Roberto Ridolfi (Italy)
Senegal — Dominique Dellicour (Belgium)
Angola — Javier Puyol Pinuela (Spain)
Botswana — Gerard McGovern (Ireland)
Burundi — Stephane de Loecker (Belgium)
South Korea — Tomasz Kozlowski (Poland)
Gabon — Cristina Martins Barreira (Portugal)
Georgia — Philip Dimitrov (Bulgaria)
Guinea-Bissau — Joaquin Gonzalez-Ducay (Spain)
Haiti — Lut Fabert-Goossens (Luxembourg)
Lebanon — Angelina Eichhorst (Netherlands)
Mozambique — Paul Malin (Ireland)
Namibia — Raúl Fuentes Milani (Spain)
Pakistan — Lars-Gunnar Wigemark (Sweden)
Philippines — Guy Ledoux (France)
Singapore — Marc Ungeheuer (Luxembourg)
Chad — Helene Cave (France)
Zambia — Gilles Hervio (France)
China (Deputy) — Carmen Cano de Lasala (Spain)
Papua New Guinea — Martin Dihm (Germany)