BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton suffered a setback on Thursday when the main political groups in the European Parliament rejected her proposal for a new European diplomatic corps as unacceptable.
Ashton, charged under the EU’s Lisbon treaty with setting up the External Action Service, unveiled a blueprint earlier that would see her hold important powers over the EU aid budget if she won support of EU states and the Parliament.
However, the main groups in the Parliament, ranging from the conservative EPP to the Socialists and Democrats, said the plan did not provide political accountability.
“A coherent and effective foreign policy service must be fully accountable to the European Parliament in budgetary and political terms,” they said in a statement.
It called Ashton’s proposal to separate responsibility for development aid “artificial...(and) a recipe for incoherence.”
Ashton’s proposal needs the support of the EU states and the parliament, though diplomats say resistance in parliament could be overcome — if EU countries threatened to drop the idea of a European diplomatic service altogether.
Ashton has been hoping to secure final approval for her plan by the end of April, but resistance from some of the 27 member states and the Parliament could mean delays.
Ashton’s blueprint, which was backed on Wednesday by the EU’s executive Commission, would put her in charge of the three main areas of development assistance to countries and regions.
This would be a success for Ashton because she had faced resistance from Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs to ceding control of the multi-billion euro EU development budget.
The separate humanitarian aid budget, and assistance for the EU’s eastern neighbors, would remain in the hands of Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva and enlargement chief Stefan Fuele respectively.
Ashton said she would be responsible for drawing up aid strategy in consultation with the development and enlargement commissioners and they would be responsible for implementation.
“It’s the perfect solution of synergy between what the Commission is doing and the role of the commissioners and the role of the External Action Service,” she added.
The EU diplomatic corps is intended to increase the influence of a bloc of than 500 million people. It will have as many as 3,000 diplomats driving aid and trade policies.
“It’s in everybody’s interest to have the European Action Service up and running as soon as possible,” she said.
“We have to adapt to a world of growing complexity and fundamental power shifts. We can only punch our weight if we are able to bring together all the instruments, economic, political, development, and security, crisis management and long term engagement in support of a single political strategy.”
Ashton’s blueprint calls for a diplomatic corps that will be managed by a powerful secretary general and two deputies, a model that has been criticized by senior parliamentarians as being too closely modeled on the French diplomatic service.
The parliamentary groups said Ashton needed political deputies, not an omnipotent secretary-general.
Ashton won the Commission’s approval despite facing criticism from some member states over a hesitant start since she took office late last year. Supporters says she has delivered the draft a week ahead of schedule despite resistance.
Editing by Jon Hemming