A credible and accountable EU foreign service? Not yet


In late February, Josep Borrell, EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy and vice-president of the European Commission, announced three senior appointments in the European External Action Service (EEAS).

They were: Spaniard Enrique Mora Benavente as deputy secretary general for political affairs, political director; Italian Stefano Sannino as deputy secretary general for economic and global issues; Frenchman Charles Fries as deputy secretary general for common security and defence policy (CSDP) and crisis response.

All three men are qualified, so there is no doubt about their ability to support Borrell's already full plate of work from Syria to Libya, Ukraine to Iran, China to the United States.

These appointments do not however represent the geographic diversity and gender balance that European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen requested of her colleagues when building their teams.

While Borrell's cabinet is diverse in terms of gender and nationality, it would have been remarkable if he and the EEAS had applied von der Leyen's request to "draw on all of Europe's talents" to senior EEAS leadership.

A young Romanian woman recently told me that she finds it increasingly difficult to identify with the institutions because of decisions such as these which further both the gender and the regional imbalance.

"If we are building a two-tier Europe with a core and a periphery, I fear this will erode all progress made towards the populations in the East, who put their faith in the promise of being treated as equals. We could well be slowly abandoning our values for the sake of short-term practicality, to be able to play along with others by their rules," she said.

So what went wrong?

Diversity matters in Europe. EEAS secretary general Helga Schmid, ambassador Mara Marinaki, EEAS's principal adviser on gender, and Anna Carin Krokstäde, adviser for equal opportunities and careers at the EEAS ensure that diversity and particularly gender is not relegated internally and externally.

The EU supports the United Nations' security resolution 1325, aims for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention by all EU member states.

It is said that in all the meetings that Schmid chairs, she ensures that gender perspectives are raised.

And the EEAS has launched several initiatives to strengthen the pipeline of women for management positions, by providing trainings and networking opportunities.

Changing the conundrum requires tackling how appointments are made.

First, EU member states need to put forward more women for senior positions.

So far, EU member states do little to encourage their women to apply. In fact, under pressure to do better when it comes to diversity and inclusion at home, member states these days seem to prefer to keep the qualified women in their national institutions to improve their image.

Second, more women need to apply.

Considerably few women applied for the deputy secretary general positions in the EEAS. More women need to step forward and take a risk.

The time is ripe to reject the status quo and stop lamenting the lack of opportunities.

There is a myriad of initiatives to enable women to receive training, coaching, mentoring, to engage in strategic networks and to be visible – Women in International Security, Women in International Trade, or The Brussels Binder to name but a few.

As one of the participants of a talk organised by the EEAS with a woman in a senior position about her career track said, "it made me dare to apply for a senior post."

Thirdly, the EEAS needs to adjust its recruitment and hiring processes in order to pay even more attention to diversity and inclusion.

Diverse interview panels, putting a hiring process on hold to identify a more diverse candidate pool as well as more concrete conversations with EU member states at political level regarding recruitment efforts could be practical steps in the right direction.

The lack of women is not only an issue of numbers. Women look at foreign and security policy differently; it is crucial to get these perspectives to be considered when shaping policies. And women have different access.

For example, women's participation in CSDP missions and operations is important because it makes these missions more effective as they can access other segments of society.

Women raise issues like human rights, citizen security, justice, employment, health care – domestic issues which can no longer be separated from foreign affairs in times when also Europeans face terrorist attacks or foreign fighters. Gender has become crucial to understanding the recruitment strategies and violent tactics of rebel groups such as Boko Haram or ISIS, as well as patterns of infection and death during health crisis.

Recent research has also shown that women's participation in the resolution of nuclear issues is beneficial, in that it reduces the potential for overt risk-taking behaviour and increases the likelihood that negotiated agreements hold.

And given that the EEAS supports women's leadership in peace and security, the participation of women as mediators and negotiators, the absence of women from positions such as those of EU Special Representatives or Heads of CSDP missions raises the question of double standards.

What legitimacy does the EU have to promote abroad a principle that it cannot apply at home?

The EEAS would be well advised to follow the standards of the European Commission – 40 percent of women in senior management.

If Europe really wants to be a serious foreign policy player, it needs to be more representative and draw on all its potential. Europe is at a point where it needs different perspectives to yield fresher conversations and innovative policy recommendations.

The jury is still out on Borrell; more recruitment is under way and he has a chance to have more women channelled women towards leadership positions.

Corinna Horst is a steering committee member and former President of WIIS Brussels, and a senior fellow and deputy director of GMF's Brussels office.

This article was first posted on EUobserver.

Photo credit: EEAS