The Birth of the European Diplomatic Academy: Giant Leap or A Small Step Towards A United European Foreign Policy?

The Birth of the European Diplomatic Academy: Giant Leap or A Small Step Towards A United European Foreign Policy?

Flora Marlene Willimek
Source: EEAS

In August 2022, the European External Action Service (EEAS) launched a project that has been long awaited by some and dismissed as a waste of resources by others. From September 2022 to May 2023, the European Union will run a pilot project for the establishment of a European Diplomatic Academy. An educational institution that could, in the future, become the cornerstone for the training of European diplomats and could contribute to a more coherent European voice in the world.

A European Diplomatic Experiment

Funded by a budget of close to 1 million euros, the program will offer 42 young diplomats from EU member states, EU institutions, and some candidate countries, two semesters of rigorous academic experience with courses on “EU Common Foreign, Security, and Defence Policy,” “The EU, Europe and the neighbourhood” or the “Skill-set of a diplomat.” Classes will be taught by practitioners (80%) and scholars (20%). Carried out in residential format by the College of Europe in Natolin and Bruges, the syllabus also involves study visits to European institutions, team-building exercises, networking meetings with experienced diplomats, and training units provided by other security policy actors — such as NATO. Besides the academic program, the pilot project also encompasses a feasibility study, originally planned for the end of November, which will outline the options and budgetary scope for the creation of a fully-fledged and permanent European Diplomatic Academy.

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission from 2014 to 2019. Source: Euractiv

The Long way toward The Birth of the Academy

The idea of a pan-European diplomatic training institution is by no means new. For decades, failed attempts have prevented any breakthrough within the European system and with member states. Several times, the European Parliament has called for the establishment of a College of European Diplomacy to provide international relations training to national diplomats and EEAS officials but the initiative remained largely unnoticed. In a similar vein, the non-paper presented by France and Germany in 1999 during a Council working group meeting that brought up the idea of a European Diplomatic Academy, was dismissed. The idea was perceived as too far-reaching and was later replaced by the much less ambitious European Diplomatic Program. In the following years, the vision was picked up by the Working Group on External Action of the Convention on the Future of Europe in 2002 and by former MEP Méndez de Vigo in another paper.

Despite an emphasis on the Academy’s potential ability to “build up personal relations between foreign policy actors, to enhance knowledge of the different national backgrounds and interests and to create a common European strategic and administrative culture,” neither the Constitutional Treaty of 2004 nor the Treaty of Lisbon from 2009 included a paragraph on diplomatic training. More recently, the initiative gained new visibility under the leadership of High Representative Josep Borrell, MEP Nacho Sánchez Amor, and Borrell’s predecessor, Federica Mogherini, in her position as the director of the College of Europe. Now more than ever the desire to create “a powerful instrument towards a common European (geo)political mindset” is strong.

Source: Harvard

The Promises of a Unified Diplomatic Training

But can a common training facility really remedy the EU’s difficulty to speak with one voice, especially when it comes to international negotiations and its perceived position in the international system? The hopes associated with the new institution are many. The recent years since the EEAS started operating in 2011 have shown that officials from other EU institutions working for the service are usually very familiar with the Union’s institutional structure, its foreign policy decision-making processes, and its diplomatic culture. National diplomats, however, although excellent in their domains and knowledgeable about the geopolitical requirements of contemporary international affairs, and well-trained in bilateral diplomacy, have been observed to have difficulties adapting to the complex European system. Without coming from an EU background, they frequently lack a particular understanding of how multilateral negotiations are conducted, how the European delegations coordinate with each other, and how budgetary procedures work.

Through the specialized training that involves case studies, simulation games, classroom discussions, and fire-side chats, participants will receive additional layers of knowledge that enables them to move confidently on the European political parquet. More importantly, the project of a European Diplomatic Academy presents a promising opportunity for young diplomats to network, build up their profile and move from the feeling of representing a single state to being able to act more European. The desired esprit de corps is supposed to create, what Federica Mogherini called, the critical mass that will eventually contribute to making European foreign policy more stable.

The program is therefore aimed at preparing participants for the assumption of leadership roles within the EU’s architecture and especially the European External Action Service. Being already familiar with European diplomatic everyday life, having learned from experienced practitioners, and built close ties with their colleagues, participants of the European Diplomatic Academy might be suitable candidates for transforming the patchworked foreign policy of the EU into a coherent voice that in the long run strengthens the Union’s strategic autonomy.

Are There Any Drawbacks?

The project of a European Academy for the training of national diplomats and EU officials has not always been welcomed with open arms. One of the main concerns for skeptics is until today the potential risk of duplication with national services and the extra budget that a permanent educational institution would consume in the short and long run. Others fear that the unification of training methods and the strong European focus on learning experience would leave states less room for the realization of national interests and the development of their own foreign policy. However, will diplomats keep representing their home countries with the same zeal and loyalty when their socialization becomes more and more European? This question and the remaining points of criticism need to be integrated into the feasibility study and moved to the center of the upcoming debates about the permanent establishment of such a diplomatic institution.

The Academy’s To-Do List For The Future

It goes without saying that the EEAS and any future Diplomatic Academy require a lot of institutional work and adjustment over time. In order to give this development more structure, the project needs to be complemented first-and-foremost through an elaborate evaluation system that constantly monitors training needs and impact. This mechanism might also be useful to address the current tension between the goal to create an esprit de corps through standardized group training and the necessity to take individual needs and potential future postings of different diplomats into account. Beyond this, the future Academy, which is currently very much focused on providing national diplomats with the necessary knowledge about European procedures, should ensure the installation of a genuine and reciprocal exchange between career starters seconded by the member states and European personnel. Lastly, some supporters of the Academy have called for the institution to be installed further away from the national capitals where participants could be distracted by their everyday commitments.

The pilot project is now being conducted in the Belgian city of Bruges, not more than one hour and a half away from Brussels, and in Natolin, a district of the Polish capital of Warsaw. These locations certainly offer advantages. But it would at least be worth considering whether the new institution or its campuses could be moved further east or to lesser-known cities for the purpose of diversification and decentralization.

The potential for a European Diplomatic Academy undoubtedly exists. All that is needed is for the institution to be utilized and transformed into a strong real-life asset for European foreign policy.

The unborn […] Academy is not a matter of bricks and mortar or a huge budget, but of political will and imagination in the first place.

Lloveras 2021: 3
  • How can EU foreign policy become more European?
  • Does the European External Action Service need special course, solely for the training of European diplomats?
  • How can the European Diplomatic Academy be designed in order to establish a healthy coexistence of national and European foreign policy approaches?

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The Birth of the European…

by Flora Marlene Willimek time to read: 6 min