Auteur: | By Honor Mahony
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Today's formal signature of the European Constitution means that plans for an EU diplomatic service can officially begin.
It is meant to be up and running in two years and there is already much behind-the-scenes activity examining the nature of such a service, which will be a back-up to the new EU foreign minister foreseen in the Constitution.
While foreign ministries in the individual member states have been preparing their thoughts on the new service - the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, has also been active.
Mr Solana, who will become the EU foreign minister when the Constitution comes in to place (at the earliest in 2006) has set up a special task force especially to deal with the question.
Made up of senior officials in Mr Solana's secretariat in the Council plus diplomats seconded from the member states, the working group is in "a reflection mood", according to a Council official.
The official said that the consultation is "very preliminary" but that once the new Commission takes office, Mr Solana will outline his first ideas on the service.
One of the big questions is how big it will be - an issue that could lead to conflict between the Commission and the Council.
For his part, Mr Solana, who will be extremely powerful under the new Constitution with responsibility for all parts of EU foreign policy that includes trade and development, has suggested that it could run to thousands of people.
In an interview with Der Spiegel this week, when asked about an unofficial document suggesting the service could have 7000 diplomats, Mr Solana said:
"That number may be correct, but only at the end of a rather lengthy development process".
Referring to this statement, a Council official said "it has to have rigidity in its foundation, in terms of organisation and structure, but flexibility to grow".
Large member states have already started laying out their thoughts in non-official papers.
Among the issues that have to be answered include how to maintain equality between the Council, Commission and member states in terms of posts.
Also being considered is the extent to which participation by the 25 member states in the overall service is based on the size of their populations.
Other issues that member states are looking at are having special units in the service for relations with the UN and the OSCE.
The service, which will be made up of civil servants from both the member states and the European Commission delegations, has to be up and running by November 2006 - a timeline set by the Constitution, assuming ratification is successful in all member states.
At the moment, the EU member states have around 600 bilateral embassies with one another, while the Commission has over 100 delegations around the world.