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Building the European External Action Service: Institutional Learning versus Intergovernmental and Bureaucratic Politics

Michael E Smith

The creation of a new 'European External Action Service' (EEAS) under the Treaty of Lisbon represents one of the most far-reaching projects to reform EU foreign policy institutions in the history of European integration. By the middle of 2010 the process of creating the EEAS was well under way, provoking conflicts between EU member states, between major EU institutions, and even among various senior EU officials. At the time of writing, it is unclear whether the EEAS will in fact function as intended, and enhance the EU's capacity for coherent and effective action in world politics.This paper analyzes these changes and incorporates evidence from elite interviews conducted with nearly 40 senior EU officials over the past three years. Beyond the political conflicts noted above, which generally involve intergovernmental disputes among major EU member states and bureaucratic politics within/among EU institutions, a third dimension to the process must be noted: the clash between informal working methods and institutions devised in the years prior to Lisbon, and the new reforms required under the Treaty (including, but not limited to, the EEAS). Thus, the conflict over the EEAS represents an interesting 'natural experiment' for comparing formal intergovernmental/bureaucratic and informal/cognitive approaches to institutional reform. The outcome to this process will therefore have important implications for both the theoretical analysis of institutional approaches to European foreign policy and the actual practice of it, for years to come.

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