EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - EU capitals are calling for more money and clearer powers for the head of the bloc's diplomatic corps, as foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday (22 March) to review plans for the new institution.
An internal paper drafted by the Spanish EU presidency on Friday set out "the main lines of convergence shared by a great majority of delegations" following three months of debate.
The text strikes a blow against the European Commission by saying the European External Action Service (EEAS) should make the big decisions on how to spend the executive's €6 billion a year development budget.
"[Member states are] in favour of the EEAS leading on the two first stages of programming (country allocation and country strategy papers) and the commission leading on the third and subsequent stages (national indicative programmes, annual action programmes and implementation)," it says.
The paper also calls for the commission to stay out of EEAS head Catherine Ashton's management of foreign embassies.
EU officials and EU diplomats should sit alongside her people on job interview panels for senior posts. But the final say on appointments should be left up to her, it says: "The High Representative will be the sole appointing authority (AIPN) for EEAS staff, including in the EU delegations."
"[Member states] insisted on the fact that the chain of command should be clear and straightforward. Instructions to delegations should come through the High Representative," it adds.
The commission had said that decisions on top appointments should include the college of commissioners and that EU ambassadors should also take orders from the executive on the grounds that they are responsible for implementing commission programmes on top of their diplomatic duties.
Member states conceded that existing commission staff will fill the bulk of EEAS posts in its start-up phase, however. The target of having one third of posts filled by member states' diplomats is to be left until the service "has reached its full capacity," the Spanish paper says.
EU states also "converged" on having the service run by a powerful secretary general, on the model of the French foreign ministry, despite some German concerns about the structure.
The institutional power struggle comes after the Lisbon Treaty last year mandated the creation of the corps, but left out details on how it should work in practice.
The commission moved early on planning by creating working groups back in autumn 2009. EU officials also took up nine out of the 13 places on a "steering group" designed to help Ms Ashton draw up her EEAS proposal, due in the coming days.
The steering group has been sidelined by EU states, however. It met just three times as of mid-March, compared to nine EEAS discussions at member state-level.
Meanwhile, suspicion abounds inside the Brussels bubble.
A commission suggestion, put forward last Thursday, that the corps should have just 851 senior staff, could be seen as an attempt to leave scope for battalions of commission trade or development officials to work in the EU's foreign delegations. "The number is rather lower than expected," one EU diplomat said.