The EU and its 28 member states maintain the most extensive network of diplomatic representations on earth. This situation will become financially unsustainable and no longer necessary after the creation of the European External Action Service which is running 140 missions today.
Diplomatic representations have become very expensive; their cost has kept rising through increased safety measures and the need to pay high salaries for qualified personnel and premiums for the growing number of hardship posts. That is why member states have come under pressure for cutting costs and closing embassies and consulates.
Thus the Netherlands will lower the expenditures for their Foreign Ministry by a quarter until 2018; and the new Belgian government has decided to reduce its diplomatic missions from 137 to 104. Both countries will do this within the framework of comprehensive reforms with the purpose of cutting budget expenses.
The EU is definitely over-staffed with diplomatic personnel and missions.
EU Delegations have largely taken over political and economic reporting for EU headquarters in Brussels and national capitals. They should also progressively assume consular duties for EU citizens, especially issuing visa where still required and organising assistance to EU citizens in situations of natural catastrophes and political unrest.
Member states` diplomatic missions should focus on promoting business contacts to the extent that joint chambers of commerce do not do so, as is the case in some major business centres like Beijing or Tokyo.
For cost reasons member states are therefore likely to close most of their diplomatic missions during the coming 25 years and rely on EU missions.
What may look like a revolution today will be perfectly normal by 2040. The transition should take place smoothly and start as of today with intermediate stages like pooling missions or offices of several member countries.
Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 10.12 2014