Strategic Insight 007/2021

Aonghus Kelly

28 June 2021


The EU wants to become a heavyweight in international diplomacy. However, it has important reform to attend to in its CSDP network. Ireland must be forcefully involved in those reforms.


The European Union was set up not as some dry anodyne ‘project’ but as a movement of European peoples towards a better, fairer, more just continent for all its diverse regions, states and communities. Western and Northern Europe have developed and progressed after the ravages of the Second World War and the EU has now expanded to include states from across the former iron curtain. However, the regions around the EU have flared up and at times descended into long running conflicts from the Sahel to Libya, Syria, the western Balkans, Ukraine, Moldova and the Caucasus.

The EU’s actions in the foreign policy field have been open to criticism for many years and the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions have been a key attempt by the EU to address these failures. Civilian CSDP missions have been mainly focused on efforts to support Security Sector Reform (SSR), ranging from the long running European Union Rule of Law Mission Kosovo (EULEX) (which had complete executive powers) to SSR, border assistance and monitoring missions. However, the lack of a  staffing system that is fit for purpose, and retains staff, expertise and corporate knowledge severely damages confidence in the EU and the ability of its missions to succeed. If the EU wishes to progress from being a diplomatic lightweight to having real impact (as laid out in its Global Strategy ambitions) it must reform the CSDP staffing system. Even though creating a more conjoined ‘state like system’ would at this point be quite difficult, other changes must be implemented for the EU to achieve real credibility.

Changes needed for EU CSDP missions

The EU should first move away from the almost complete reliance on secondees to staff these missions. Instead, contracted staff who are hired for longer contracts and report solely to a Head of Mission, rather than their national authorities, would make better sense.

EU Member States should only second staff members for a minimum of 2.5 years (even where moving to a fully contracted staffed system is unrealistic in the short term). Human relationships are key in the world of SSR where local actors are often suspicious of outside actors. These human relationships take time to build, sustain and evolve. The revolving door movement of CSDP mission staff members on an annual basis undermines the EU and indeed its Member States, leading to frustration on the part of local actors.

Building more effective iterations of EU foreign policy also demands more clarity at HQ level in Brussels. The lack of direction and constantly changing priorities from Brussels can damage morale both at HQ level and in the field. In addition, the lack of coordination and common thought between CSDP missions and the local EU delegations is costly both financially and in terms of credibility. Currently, there seems to be a lack  of  impetus for the utility and necessity of real  cooperation between EU delegations and CSDP missions. Deep, hand in glove cooperation must become both normal and expected. The EU is one of the largest donors across the globe and it funds innumerable projects which are managed by EU staff in Brussels and in the various delegations. EU delegation staff are by their very nature diplomatic generalists. This means that they should have to seek the assistance, advice and expert counsel of expert CSDP mission staff . Formalised cooperation is needed urgently so that CSDP missions and relevant EU delegations must cooperate at all levels in all CSDP mission areas.

Ireland’s staff contribution to EU CDSP missions

Ireland has taken an active role in CSDP missions, seconding Irish personnel to all 11 missions as well as supporting those employed as contractors on these same missions. But, could Ireland do more in the area of SSR, and in particular in the criminal justice chain?

Ireland is now uniquely placed as the only fully Common Law jurisdiction and anglophone country in the EU after the departure of the United Kingdom (both Malta and Cyprus operate legal systems which retain elements of the Common Law system). This means that Ireland should now become the point country for crossover between the Common Law systems of  the U.S., Canada, the UK and 21 countries in sub-Saharan Africa as well over 40 other countries around the world and the civil law system of most of the EU. The Common Law approach can be particularly helpful in relation to many of these SSR and criminal justice systems.

Furthermore, those staff seconded from An Garda Síochána and other state institutions acquire skills and contacts which could be better leveraged upon returning to Ireland. A structure should be put in place to harness these benefits in order to enhance skills in Ireland and contribute to Irish foreign policy and criminal justice reform.

Finally, Ireland has not traditionally engaged in the necessary negotiations and ‘horse trading’ in Brussels which is essential to advocate for Irish candidates to take senior positions in CSDP missions. Even though this has started to change, this development should become stated policy and Ireland should aim to have citizens in senior positions both in Brussels and on CSDP missions.

Aonghus Kelly is a lawyer and the Executive Director of Irish Rule of Law International (IRLI). He has worked for the EU CSDP missions in Kosovo and Libya.

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