Brussels names first “ambassador”
The Sunday Telegraph - 16 December 2007
By Justin Stares in Brussels
BRUSSELS HAS appointed the European Union's first "ambassador" more than a year before the EU Reform Treaty comes into force, The Sunday Telegraph has learned.
The powerful dual role will involve Belgium's Koen Vervaeke representing both the European Commission and the EU's 27 member states in Africa.
The position is part of a diplomatic corps created under the treaty signed by Gordon Brown in Lisbon last week amid claims by Eurosceptics of a betrayal of Britain's national interests.
Brussels chiefs have pressed ahead with Mr Vervaeke's appointment before any countries have begun ratifying the treaty, which is scheduled to come into effect in 2009.
Last night, critics accused the commission of riding roughshod over the ratification process, which in Britain will see the treaty subject to parliamentary scrutiny and votes over more than 20 days next year.
Dr Charles Tannock, a Conservative Euro-MP and the party's foreign affairs spokesman at the European Parliament, said: "By appointing this man to Africa they are obviously testing the waters. This is the way things will work in the future. But until the treaty is ratified they have no mandate to set up anything like an EU diplomatic corps.''
The official Brussels line is that Mr Vervaeke's role is "an exception''.
Under the treaty, there will be a powerful EU foreign minister, or "high representative'', who will also service member states and the commission, deriving his power from what Brussels officials call a "double hat'' arrangement. Javier Solana, the Spaniard who heads the EU's fledgling foreign office, is tipped for the job, which will involve taking on more than 100 existing commission delegations around the world and turning them into a corps of diplomats.
Mr Vervaeke, 47, who will be based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is essentially a regional foreign minister with a mandate to talk on behalf of the entire EU.