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The European External Action Service as seen by the European Court of Auditors

In January 2024, the Court of Auditors published a Special Report on the EEAS, 12 years after the creation of the service. It focuses on its coordination role, mainly with the Commission and its various Directorates-General (INTPA, NEAR, TRADE, ECHO, HR, BUDG, FPI) and the Council (and the European Council). Internal coordination is also particularly important, with 145 delegations and offices around the world. The finding is ” overall positive “, and the Court seems to avoid getting to the heart of the debate on the relevance of the complex institutional arrangement sought through the Lisbon Treaty. It is true that the Court’s role is to assess “performance” by means of a classic audit of operations, mainly from an organizational point of view, and not to venture into the political arena.

The institutional arrangements resulting from the Treaties, and in particular the Treaty of Lisbon, are particularly complex. The European Union’s competences in the field of external relations are divided between the various institutions and the Member States: they may be exclusive, shared, based on support and coordination functions, or even more specific in the field of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). If the European Commission sees itself as “geopolitical”, it is above all and thanks to the development of a diplomatic apparatus – the European External Action Service (EEAS) – under the authority of the High Representative Vice-President (HRVP) who has established himself as the centre of gravity. However, its effectiveness is based on its ability to initiate and coordinate policies in order to “pull in the same direction”; this constitutes the very legitimacy of the system, and this is what the Court of Auditors has attempted to assess through a performance audit, by reviewing working methods and the resources made available.

The Court’s report is based on a series of interviews conducted between 2022 and 2023 at EEAS headquarters, at the Commission, at the Council and in four delegations chosen to provide a geographical sample in terms of size, political importance, etc. The auditors also conducted a survey on Heads of Delegation. The results of this survey do not have any scientific statistical relevance, however, based on the sampling of responses given in the body of the text, which is often based on just a few responses.

A substantial part of the criticisms and recommendations concern the information systems for ordinary exchanges, but also the complexity of the tools for transmitting documents securely. The EEAS is poorly resourced and has had to separate itself from the systems set up by the Commission, for institutional and security reasons. The disparity of the systems makes certain inter-institutional interactions more difficult, even though most of them are interoperable. In addition, many staff are reluctant to invest in the training needed to use certain tools effectively. So, surprisingly, while this is an important aspect of setting up an effective IT infrastructure that poses challenges for any organisation, in the Court’s performance audit it seems to take on a disproportionate dimension and reduce the place of other, less “technical” considerations.  

More substantially, the report shows that the EEAS’s coordination work with the Member States, through the Council groups, is effective. As a reminder, the EEAS chairs these groups, while the HRVP chairs the Foreign Affairs Council. In this respect, the Service plays an effective role in the preparation of these Councils.

On the other hand, a more nuanced assessment was made of internal coordination about annual planning and, more generally, exchanges between headquarters and the Delegations. Several Delegations have expressed frustration at the lack of feedback on their reports and, more generally, on their contributions to policy development.

Finally, the report also recalls the internal organisation of the EEAS and its staffing levels (2,790 in the delegations and 1,821 at headquarters in 2023) without, however, making any assessment of these figures. The main recommendation on resources calls for an assessment of the workload in the Delegations in line with the work carried out by the Commission through the Work Load Assessment in Delegations (WLAD) in 2022. This is based on the observation that the Delegations are generally understaffed in terms of diplomatic and political personnel in relation to the expected objectives, particularly when compared to what the Commission makes available to the network (3,492 staff), and that the principle of flexibility agreed to enable collaboration and abolish working in silos is not always satisfactory locally.

These are familiar situations face by colleagues who are in delegation. We have not yet achieved the concept of “One Delegation”, but this is a wider and longer-term debate. We will definitely return on some of these aspects in our forthcoming publications.


Staff representation at the EEAS:

Structures are slowly being put in place in a difficult context

The elected members of U4U/USHU were actively involved in the adoption of texts concerning staff at headquarters and in delegations, in particular on the organisation of hybrid work, special leave and the prevention and combating of harassment. Thanks to our joint efforts, progress has been made, even if it does not always meet expectations.

This was the case for the social dialogue on hybrid working in delegations, where it was far from being accepted due to the nature of the tasks considered incompatible. As a result of the negotiations, agreement was reached on one day of teleworking for expatriate staff in delegations and a text is still awaited for local staff. We have also fought for a dynamic human resources management policy in line with today’s legitimate expectations, while the administration has taken the view that colleagues in delegations are privileged and should not therefore benefit from further measures considered as additional advantages. This is not a “bonus” at all, but the introduction of a modern management tool aimed at achieving a better work-life balance while ensuring greater efficiency in the workplace. Over time, experience will show that teleworking is not incompatible with the work in delegations and, if necessary, the agreement will have to be renegotiated on an objective basis, with a rendez-vous clause in 2025. In the meantime, as in the Commission, a joint committee has been set up to monitor implementation.

Local staff are today deeply concerned about the scandalous situation of net losses in Provident Fund (PF) contributions linked to fluctuations in the financial markets. For most local staff, the PF compensates for the lack of a pension scheme when they retire. To date, there is no compensation for local staff who have suffered losses as a result of investments made by DG BUDG. A growing number of local staff consider that the EEAS and the Commission do not respect the conditions of employment which imply compulsory membership of the PF (with a few rare exceptions) and tend to underestimate the impact of this issue, which has provoked strong reactions in several delegations. The Commission’s Local Committee Hors Union and the EEAS Staff Committee raised the issue with the EEAS administration at plenary sessions in mid-October.  At the same time, the EEAS OSPs issued a joint message to all staff concerned. The EEAS aims to strengthen governance by involving local staff more in the management of the FP in the future, but in reality, nothing has been done. On the contrary, it seems that the EEAS does not intend to make any changes to the legal basis before 2025, which only adds to the growing sense of frustration among local staff. This is unacceptable and we will continue to take action in defence of our colleagues.

The EEAS also faces a difficult budgetary situation. The agreement reached by the Council and Parliament on the 2024 budget does not allow our institutions to function properly in the face of geopolitical crises. The budgetary authority has taken a restrictive approach in line with the Council’s position, leaving the EEAS underfunded by €114 million without any additional staff. The potential consequences of this situation remain to be analysed.  This means using human resources more flexibly, setting negative priorities and more rigorously analysing the impact of new demands that may arise as a result of geopolitical crises. A task force has been set up to identify savings to be made and, in the longer term, to review the footprint of delegations, with all the consequences for staff, starting with local staff in the event of closure.

In this context, U4U/USHU will take part in this discussion and act in the interests of staff by recalling the principles and values that guide our actions.


Illegal arrest of a staff member by Iran

FAO : Director General Director-General INTPA Mr. Koen Doens

Dear Koen :

I hope you are keeping well.

Like many, we learned of the imprisonment of an INTPA staff member in Iran. The HRVP article indicates that Mr Johan Floderus (normally assigned to Kabul) has been illegally detained for over 500 days which is alarming.

This is clearly of great concern to all colleagues and as the CLP HU, we would like to convey our solidarity with this colleague and his family and receive assurances from INTPA , the Commission and the EEAS that all is being done to secure his release as soon as possible.

Any information that can be shared is welcome and we understand the sensitivities around this issue.

We hope for a rapid solution to liberate Mr Floderus.

Helen CONEFREY
President CLP HU
5 septembre 2023


EEAS Internal Competitions: launch of first set of competitions on 3 April 2023

(note from DG Di Vita dated 30/03/2023)

Dear colleagues,

As part of the EEAS recruitment strategy announced by the Secretary General on 01 February 2023, the EEAS is organising a series of internal competitions to retain in-house talent and offer career perspectives to our staff.

As a first step, on 3 April 2023, the EEAS will launch the application procedure for three internal competitions covering the following grades: AD 9, AD 10 and AD 12. Please note that, as required by the Staff Regulations, these competitions will be open to AD officials and temporary agents in the AD function group only, subject to eligibility criteria that will be detailed in the Notices of Competitions published on 3 April 2023.

The period of application will run from 3 April until 5 May, 12:00, CET. Late application will not be accepted.

A second set of competitions, open to officials, temporary agents and contract agents, will be launched in the autumn and will cover grades AST-SC2, AST 2 and AD 6. These grades have been selected to allow contract agents to be eligible as per article 82.7 of the Conditions of Employment of Other Servants. More information regarding these competitions will follow in due course.

The number of quotas on the reserve lists have been carefully calculated to match the prospects of the EEAS to replace retiring permanent staff, while also recruiting laureates from EPSO competitions.

News regarding the Notices of Competitions will be posted on the Intranet on Friday 31 March 2023, with the application links, which will be activated on Monday 3 April. A set of Frequently Asked Questions will complement provisions laid out in the Notices of Competition. Furthermore, dedicated functional mailboxes (one per competition) will be available for additional information.

On behalf of the Secretary General and DG RM, I wish all candidates the best of luck!