The leaders of the EU’s training and advisory missions abroad have been asked to reign in spending to allow the reallocation of some of their budgets to new missions, EURACTIV has learnt.
Last summer, the EU’s diplomatic service EEAS sounded the alarm that the bloc’s missions were too costly to fit in the EU’s current foreign policy (CFSP) budget.
It therefore suggested looking at potentially closing or downgrading three missions seen as less cost-effective than others, either because of the impact of their activities on the ground or the inefficient fund management.
On the services’ radar was the EU’s advisory mission in Iraq, the border assistance mission around Libya, and the advisory and training mission in Somalia.
Most member states, however, are wary of closing missions and cancelling EU presence on the ground, EU diplomats told EURACTIV.
While some countries indeed believe it is time to close some missions, others think the missions should continue running, with a lower level of practical work and minimum staffing.
The European Commission said it will propose a review of the current EU budget in the summer to match the bloc’s ambitions on a wide range of issues and recover from the massive support given to Ukraine since the war started.
It is unclear if and when the updated budget will be made available and if more funds will be allocated to the EU’s civilian missions.
The step is also evidence of the EU’s difficult balancing act between support to the neighbourhood and the EU’s wish to show global geopolitical ambitions.
The budgetary envelope “has not been adjusted to reflect the current increase in activities and the increase in financial demands, both from our missions as well as other actions also financed through the CFSP budget,” Peter Stano, the EU’s lead spokesperson for foreign affairs, told EURACTIV.
The EU has 13 advisory and training civilian missions under the common security and defence policy’s umbrella (CSDP), deployed on three different continents, in Africa, in the eastern neighbourhood, and in the middle east.
Those missions are financed by the EU’s common budget.
In 2023 alone, the EU established two new civilian missions. It launched its Mission in Armenia (EUMA) to monitor the border with Azerbaijan in January, and the EU Partnership Mission (EUPM) in Moldova against foreign interference in April.
However, the budget plan until 2027 did not foresee such expansion of the EU’s and its member states’ geopolitical endeavours.
Geopolitical ambitions vs. small budget
Civilian CSDP missions were therefore asked to reduce costs.
The member states consensually opted for this measure in order to avoid having to choose which missions would have to be closed to save funds and continue support to the partners, one EU diplomat told EURACTIV.
Civilian CSDP missions have been asked to “reduce costs without compromising their operations,” Stano said.
This includes reducing staff and keeping only essential activities, the EU diplomat said, adding that the measures have been efficient and have, to some extent, allowed the member states to open the new missions in Armenia and Moldova.
Stano said that “in order to avoid a structural deficit, after discussions with member states, we had to find solutions to the shortfall”.
“To this end, missions are taking every possible step to maximise the use of existing resources while minimising costs, without compromising their ability to deliver high-quality services to the host country,” he added.
“This has enabled us to free up valuable resources for our new EU missions,” the EU’s lead foreign affairs spokesman said.
EU defence ministers are expected to adapt the new civilian CSDP compact when they meet on Tuesday (23 May) to ensure as much of their personnel as possible is seconded.
Under current procedures, seconded personnel is sent from member states to the mission for a temporary posting, instead of being contracted by the mission itself.
It is therefore not paid for from the EU budget but by their own government, saving funds off the mission’s budgetary envelope.
One other central aspect of this new strategy is to make the civilian missions more “temporary” and with less strict mandates, allowing for flexibility, EU sources told EURACTIV.
[Edited by Alexandra Brzozowski/Zoran Radosavljevic]