Double-hatting the EUSRs

Thanks, folks, for your support in response to my rather downbeat messages of the last few days. I reckon I was being brought rather low by the virus, or whatever, and now feel considerably recovered.

I had one of those extraordinary days at work today. Because the water had been cut off in our street, I found myself tossing and turning in bed from about 6 am onwards, and decided to make the best of a bad job and go in to Brussels smelly, hoping that the legendary shower in our office building would turn out to exist. I also made the strategic decision to go in wearing jeans, but take my smart suit anyway so as to get it dry-cleaned.

When I got to work, I encountered my boss (who had been there since 5 am) and he informed me that I was coming with him to today’s meeting with the European Union’s Political and Security Committee.

The Political and Security Committee is the EU body which runs the Common Foreign and Security Policy. It is the second most important of the EU’s Brussels-based committees and includes a full Ambassador from each EU member state, plus representatives also from Bulgaria, Romania and the European Commission. The British had invited my boss to speak to the Committee in what I guess was its first proper meeting under the British presidency, and now I had the chance to sit at the back.

Luckily the shower in our office was not legendary, and was working. And my suit, though in need of cleaning, was presentable. I did have to borrow someone else’s tie though, as I hadn’t planned on wearing one today.

So after a somewhat frenetic clean-up and preparation from me, we arrived at the big pink building on Rondpoint Schumann for the meeting. We were met by a British diplomat, an old friend of mine from Bosnia days, who shepherded us inside – the first time I’d seen him since he became a father at the end of March.. I got the impression that our participating in the meeting had been largely his idea because he looked very nervous. I asked him how he was feeling and he admitted that he too had been up since 5 am – “and it wasn’t just because of the baby”.

The meeting room itself was much bigger than I had expected. There are 27 countries and the European Commission and the European Council Secretariat represented, each with at least two seats around the table and another two or three behind, so I reckon there were upwards of 150 in the room. The whole meeting was done in English, apart from one of my colleagues who made a point of speaking in French (even the French Ambassador made her intervention in English). The British Ambassador, presiding, addressed everyone by their first name. Mobile phones seemed to be going off all the time – though quietly – as people received (or perhaps even gave) instructions to their national capitals.

My boss gave a fantastic performance, reviewing EU mechanisms in some detail and then hitting on various parts of the world, especially the ones I work on. I was particularly pleased that he took a swipe at the European Commission on one topic which I feel strongly about – the rather obscure question of double-hatting the EUSRs.

An EUSR is an EU Special Representative, whose job is to be a focus for the 25 member states in a particular region or country. I personally have been banging away for a long time to whoever would listen about how sensible it would be for such people to also run the European Commission offices in the country for which they are responsible, so that there would be a single office representing the EU rather than two or more. (And therefore an answer to Kissinger’s famous question, “What is Europe’s phone number?”) It’s an obscure issue, but one which could be of great benefit to the EU if resolved, especially in the Balkans. However, every time I’ve talked to Commission people about this, they’ve told me it is impossible to “double-hat the EUSRs”, in other words to give them both jobs, of representing the Council and the Commission simultaneously, unless and until the Constitutional Treaty comes into force, which as we now know thanks to the Dutch and French voters is unlikely to ever happen. So I was pleased that my boss chose to mention this as one of his points to the ambassadors.

The ambassadors responded pretty well to his presentation, including one Eastern European who asked a penetrating and well-informed question about Zimbabwe, no doubt surprising those who weren’t aware that his country has a policy on Zimbabwe (I smiled, because I’m well aware that his country indeed has no policy on Zimbabwe, but also that the Ambassador’s ex-wife is from there.) But I was myself surprised when the European Commission’s representative, the last to speak, actually said that the Commission had changed its mind, and he was now under explicit instructions to find a way of double-hatting the EUSRs, at least in the Balkans.

I was really pleased. As far as I know, while there were certain internal forces pushing this, nobody except our organisation – frankly, except me – had been saying this on the outside. Of course, it hasn’t happened yet, but it’s nice to feel that I am making a difference, even if it’s in almost invisible areas of EU comitology.

Then of course it turned out that one of the EU Council Secretariat staffers listening to the presentation is the daughter of a well-known British fandom figure. So once again my worlds collide.

Got back to work to find that one of our analysts in the field had resigned. It had been a tough call when I hired him a couple of months back, as I actually knew the reserve candidate rather better but he didn’t interview as well. Called the reserve candidate and put it to him – would he like to work for us after all? Luckily the answer was yes.

Going to bed now.

One thought on “Double-hatting the EUSRs

Comments are closed.