LINKAGE COUNCILLORS helping Europe’s “rayonnement” in our embassies


Recently  John Fox and Francois Godement published: A Power Audit of EU-China relations (European Council on Foreign Relations  ECFR.EU). They give a lively picture of what they see as wrong  in todays projection of European unity in important capitals like Beijing. They give many examples how European negotiating power is needlessly lost. The following are preliminary thoughts  on the possibility of introducing a modest element providing  closer linkage between the EU members, mostly  their embassies in the  foreign capital, for instance Beijing, with  adequate support  in Brussels.

The European Council could  in cooperation with the European Commission, particularly its delegation in Beijing,  detail a small group of staff as special linkage councilors to the EU member ambassadors in Beijing or other capitals.

I call such councilors Conseillers du rayonnement Europeen to add a dimension beyond the power projection which Fox and Godement stress so much. One could also  or more prosaically  call them Linkage Councilors. Their task would be:
to scout for successful and promising projects and programs  in their own embassies  and see whether an outstanding  similar and complementing element from any other EU member might be attached  or linked for greater joined overall, that is European, but also EU-Chinese benefit.

An example : The eminently successful UK- Chinese cooperation in the field of sustainable development. The UK has been able to set up a wide network comprising a multitude of British as well as a multitude of important Chinese departments and agencies. Such an exemplary network merits great  praise. Messieurs Fox and Godement make the argument that with all their benefits such particular programs  of excellence  detract from joint EU effort.

A few quotes from Fox and Godement clarify how they see the problem:
So, for example, the UK and France have established ambitious climate change dialogues with China, while the EU dialogue struggles to gain traction with Chinese policymakers.
In fact, there are now six EU or Member State dialogues on climate change with China.
The UK runs its own financial dialogue with Vice-Premier Wang Qishan, covering areas that should be Commission competences..
France has been inspired by this example to ask for an economic dialogue of its own, and Germany is considering making a similar request.  (Unquote)

Fox and Godement further say :
(quote) This encourages governments to pursue their  relationship with China independently from Brussels, leaving the EU to deal with few matters of substance and to fight battles over largely symbolic issues.
Overcoming its own divisions is the only way in which the EU can hope to rebuild leverage both at a European and a national level. Europeans need to think about how to raise their game, achieve unity where it matters, and focus their demands on those areas where a change of Chinese policy is essential (unquote)
(quote) .  Europeans have made climate change a top priority  in their dealings with China.
But there has been little in the way of a common  EU approach (unquote)

And in yet another criticism they say : Each of these (a few European member states mentioned by name) countries competes to become Chinas partner of choice in Europe. They openly disparage the European Commissions trade position on China, arguing variously that it is too liberal or too protectionist, and discount it altogether on political issues. This me-first strategy is blind to the reality of the overall relationship. (unquote)

The authors argue that joint EU negotiation power is squandered in this way.
There is truth in their remark, but the more artful way of proceeding would be to add, and not to subtract from existing bilateral, eminently successful programs

What could a small corps of linkage counselors in the EU ambassadors  do ?
They would  look for  possible linkages to other EU embassies in the host country. China as a country is sometimes described as suffering from  too much vertical hierarchy and too little  horizontal or diagonal lines  (hang-xian lianxi). The European Union embassies may well suffer from similar shortcoming in mutual linkage.
The counselors could help overcoming European internal barriers, starting from european country embassies abroad, with obviously important effects also in Europe.

Taking again climate change as an  example, our Conseillers de rayonnement Europeen or Linkage Councilors in the various EU embassies might complement the already excellent existing bilateral networks with inputs from other  member countries. They could for instance complement the above mentioned British-Chinese dialogue with elements from the  Netherlands and Swedish initiatives on eco-cities, and  with German and Spanish experience  in  solar and wind energy, and the French great expertise in nuclear power.

In their activity those Councilors would remain close and under the authority of the individual EU Ambassadors in Beijing so that the Ambassadors may survey and judge  whether the activity of the linkage counselors indeed leads to sound and equitable expansion of inputs over a wider European area. Occasionally an Ambassador might object if he fears  that his successful particular network with China risks being  loaded with too many foreign elements from other EU members, without similar openings opened to him in the network of other European embassies. Overall fairness and maintained focus on excellence should be the rule, not imposed coordination.

The linkage counselors would frequently consult with each other  to survey existing and new forms of potential inter-European linkage, and would keep track of a broad equilibrium stimulating cooperation among  all EU members  without harming the quality of ongoing projects and programs.
The linkage counselors would be supported by a reasonable amount of financial and other means, which might be found in a modest percentage of development funds which the single countries already allocate to the country involved. Also part of the aid funds now administered by the European Commission could be devoted to this expansion of this linkage project.
This would be in conformity with the principle of subsidiarity which the European institutions must take as guidance.
It is the single member countries and their embassies which are and should  remain the main actors. By fostering linkage they see their own work made more effective, and they thereby also create a better basis   for strong and equitable  negotiation with the host country.
The program of linkage counselors would therefore lead to a stronger rayonnement europeen.


How far could the scope of work of the linkage counselors be stretched ? would it include the  trade, the investment and even the political field?
The whole gamma of initiatives of embassies would merit at least their consideration because in politics everything is linked. As they would be a preferred institutional tool of an overall European projection, they would also be attentive that cohesion remains even in rare cases where  one of the 27 EU members temporarily experiences

difficulties in its bilateral relations with China (on the Olympics, on Tibet or on whatever touchy bilateral question may come up).
Having their seat in the various embassies at a central spot, in close contacts and supervised by the Ambassadors and working across departmental structures  they could be watchful and prevent that in such cases some EU member might unduly try to profit of the difficulties of a single EU member country. Fox and Godement suggest that past  experience has been quite different and regrettable from a European solidarity point of view.

Perhaps an added welcome advantage to the ambassadors might be that the Linkage councilors might finally find ways to help the ambassadors in mastering the exceedingly big flow of delegations from their home countries.

As an instrument meant to support the EU ambassadors, the linkage officers would not be under direct supervision of the European Commission delegation, but obviously that  Delegation would as any EU Embassy, be active in this exercise
The linkage counselors might help their Ambassador report to the current chairman of the European Union. The counselors would be in a very good position to see where obvious gaps in the development of relations remain and so they could give useful signals to the ambassadors and therefore to the EU Chairmanship  on new overarching  all-European initiatives.

How many linkage counselors would be needed?
Perhaps between 6 and 10: one for each of the bigger countries UK, Germany Italy, Spain, France, one for the Benelux. Perhaps one combining two or three Scandinavian countries, and a few (perhaps three) more. There would not be a  strict need  to provide  all 27 member embassies with a liaison counselor. Some countries may have less opportunity to use adequately such a highly qualified officer. The fact that not all embassies would have such a conseiller du rayonnemnt europeen  would usefully underlign the principle that the presence of such counselors is entirely built on the free wish of the participating countries, and their ambassadors, and not on any new european administrative layer imposed on them. Embassies not interested in participating would be excused, but would then not profit from the referrals and useful signals that the group of conseillers du rayonnement would generate.


The above suggestion might look as if it had some elements of a Joint European Diplomatic Service in as much as it details a few new EU staff members  to the Embassies  in Beijing. But that is not the intent of tis author. What is proposed is at most an intermediate solution. It leaves basic responsibility to the ambassadors in Beijing.
It only makes it easier for them to reach out to each other where outreach  could lead to mutual and common advantage, common not only intended for the EU side, but also intended as common to both EU and China, two important regions and civilizations which have  to gain much in closer mutual understanding.
The power approach which is so heavily laid on by Fox and Godement does not capture the full importance of improved linkages.

Permettez-moi dy joindre deux mots en français.
La question que Messieurs Fox et Godement nous posent est importante et mérite notre attention. Il serait pourtant dommage si la question fut posée seulement dans des termes de pouvoir, de puissance, de « power audit ».
Il sagit fondamentalement de quelque chose de plus large et de plus haut, de plus noble, a laquelle même la China a un grand intérêt : le rayonnement de lEurope, et des deux cultures, chinoise et européenne envers et en amitié lune avec lautre. Cest pour cela que jétais tente dappeler les conseilleurs de liaison plutôt « conseillers de rayonnement européenne » Mais si le moyen est bon, le nom nimporte plus.

Jespère que pour la promotion du but important  des idées utiles puissent surgir de mains plus capables que les miennes.

Anton Smitsendonk
–  Paris  Beijing  20 fevrier  2009
(une version en Français de cet article a été publiée dans La Nouvelle REVUE UNIVERSELLE (fondée en 1920 par Jacques Bainville, Trimestriel No 18, octobre-novembre-décembre 2009 ;  7 rue Constance 75018 Paris.  Directeur : Hilaire de Crémiers )


About dutasia

Former Ambassador of the Netherlands, presently National Commissioner for Thailand and for Indonesia in the ICC, the International Chamber of Commerce, the World Business Organization. Chairman of China Carbon Forum in Beijing, China.
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