Created after the landmark Treaty of Lisbon in December 2009, the European External Action Service (EEAS) will seek to unify the EU’s voice in world diplomatic affairs. Europe’s man in Washington is João Vale de Almeida, the EU ambassador to the United States, who has been promoting a strongly optimistic view on the EEAS starting off well. 
 
The EU’s new service will offer a “a more reliable, more credible, and a more results-oriented partner” to the United States, Almeida pledged in a September interview with The Hill. A Portuguese national and longtime deputy to European Commission head José Manuel Barroso, Almeida arrived in Washington in July claiming a “wider mandate” for his ambassadorship.

“My ambition is to move beyond what exists today, to build a stronger and even more positive EU-US agenda with solid bilateral and global pillars,” Almeida said in an August press release. He promised “an agenda that unlocks the full potential of our economies, promotes joint action in foreign policy, and enhances our capacity as global partners."

Almeida’s words obliquely addressed critics’ concerns about the EU’s readiness to operate a new diplomatic structure—and a big one at that. As a branch of the Brussels-based European Commission, the EEAS will comprise approximately 8,000 diplomats dispersed among the agency’s 136 foreign embassies. On budget, the latest estimates from the Devex newswire put the EEAS’ funds at $620 million.   
 
Outside the EU’s official sphere, Almeida’s optimism stands in black-and-white contrast to the prevailing gloom in the U.S. media. “The European Union is dying,” wrote Charles Kupchan last month, senior Europe expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. The New York Times lamented in March that Europeans had to “promise relevance” in their overtures to the White House, echoing widespread European complaints that the President has demoted the Old Continent in favor of China and other more demanding world hotspots. 

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Many Europeans have voiced doubts on the EEAS, in theory their own service pushing their own interests. The Spanish newspaper El País has already dismissed it as a “toothless colossus.” Roger Cohen, the International Herald Tribune columnist and a Briton, has declared that “Europe is history.” Even if the service does deliver, Cohen writes, the bloc it represents “has become a strategic backwater.”

Some offer a more silver-lined reading of the EEAS’ potential heft. In an article from the online journal E!Sharp, William Kennard, the U.S. ambassador to the EU, believes the new corps will “extend the EU’s influence around the world in a much more effective way.” 

Justin Vaïsse, a Brookings Institution expert and French national, has allowed that American diplomats are “more likely to feel the change [brought by the EEAS] when they are sent abroad,” especially outside the European sphere. He also observes that Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonAmerica departs Afghanistan as China arrives Young, diverse voters fueled Biden victory over Trump McConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year' MORE has shown consistent favor toward the EEAS, which could smooth its first dealings with the United States. 

But Vaïsse hastens to note that the effectiveness of the new service hinges not on its own capacity, but the respect it is given by foreign governments. Nowhere is this truer than in Washington. 

“At the end of the day… the overall impact of the Lisbon Treaty changes will depend on the level of interest the White House grants to Europeans. If the scant interest President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaYoung, diverse voters fueled Biden victory over Trump Biden's relationship with top House Republican is frosty The Memo: The Obamas unbound, on race MORE has shown in Europe remains the same, there is little chance that a virtuous circle will kick in, despite Europe’s best efforts.” 

The EEAS has a lot to prove this winter. Its friends here and around the world may be ready for partnership, but only once the EU shows its diplomatic engine can arrive on time—and get going. 

Fleeson writes on transatlantic politics and culture at euramerican.blogspot.com