Issue 16 - Article 11

Reform of the European Commission's External Cooperation

March 15, 2004
4 min read

Financial scandal in 1999 forced the executive leadership of the European Commission (EC) to step down. The new executive has initiated a programme of structural reforms, the outlines of which are now becoming clear. Particularly relevant for the RRN readership are the changes affecting the external relations of the EC. In essence these changes consist of a restructuring and reallocation of responsibilities between the Directorate-Generals (DG), with each having:

  • its own commissioner;
  • a stronger geographical dimension in the management structure;
  • the designation of geographical desks as the core instrument for coordination;
  • a stronger emphasis on the common foreign and security policy (CFSP).

The reforms are not yet complete, and further changes may take place in the future.

DG External Relations (Commissioner: Chris Patten):

The external relations portfolio includes responsibility for the majority of countries, except ACP states and applicants for membership to the European Union (EU). This also includes analyses and policy planning, priorities and programming, information for the delegations, human rights and democratisation, and the common foreign and security policy. The External Relations Commissioner will coordinate the external relations activities of the EC, and be the interlocutor for the newly appointed ‘High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy’, Javier Solana (former NATO Secretary-General) at the level of the Council of Europe, not the Commission. Alberto Navarro, former director of ECHO, has become ‘chef du cabinet’ of Javier Solana. Patten is also responsible for the Common Service for External Relations which is responsible for the technical, legal and financial aspects of implementing the EC’s aid and cooperation programmes.

Enlargement Service (Commissioner: Günter Verheugen):

This now combines the previous Task Force for Accession Negotiations and responsibility for the relations with applicant countries, notably Cyprus, Malta and Turkey and central and east European countries.

DG for Trade (Commissioner: Marcel Lamy):

The creation of a trade portfolio gives stronger focus and higher profile to this thematic issue. The DG will be responsible for bilateral trade issues and for the formulation of trade policy, and will closely relate to the geographical desks in other external relations DGs.

DG for Development (Commissioner: Paul Nielson):

This portfolio combines responsibility for development and humanitarian aid. Its geographical focus for development will be the ACP countries and the major development cooperation framework of the Lomé Convention. Its responsibilities also include some budget lines which are of benefit to all developing countries, such as NGO co-financing and non-emergency food aid. It will also have responsibility for relations with international organisations and for the integration of sectoral policies.

Coherence policy

The geographical dimension of the new management structure is clear in the allocation of responsibilities between the DG for External Relations, Development, and Enlargement. As a consequence, the geographical desks become the primary locus for strategy development and internal coordination of EC policies. Trade and development, as thematic issues, will have to link with the appropriate geographical desks.


For the time being ECHO continues as a separate entity though it has lost its separate commissioner and now comes under Paul Nielson who is also responsible for Development. Reportedly, there remains discussion about whether to retain a separate structure for humanitarian aid or integrate it (again) with the geographical desks. It is not inconceivable that, for some time, this will lead to administrative confusion and delays. Nielson is keen on a stricter interpretation of ECHO’s mandate, and has already ordered ECHO’s exit from Bosnia, Cambodia and Cuba. The question remains: is there an effective ‘entry’ strategy for the other aid instruments, with a timely ‘handover’?


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