The EU and International Diplomatic Law: New Horizons?

In: The Hague Journal of Diplomacy


The European Union has a unique sui generis status on the international plane, which is reflected in its capability to enter into diplomatic relations with third states and international organizations. Over nearly six decades, the European Union (EU) has gradually built its own worldwide bilateral and multilateral diplomatic network, which is made subject — through specific agreements with the host country — to the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The ‘Union delegations’ are now operating as the diplomatic missions of the EU as a whole, in contrast to the former Commission delegations. This article examines the relationship between the EU and international diplomatic law. How does the EU establish and conduct diplomatic relations? What legal instruments are being used? How do the Vienna Convention and customary diplomatic law come into play? What is the exact legal status of EU ambassadors and diplomatic staff? By critically analysing these issues, this article assesses the specific contribution the EU makes to the further development of international diplomatic law.

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    Alain PlanteyPrincipes de Diplomatie (Paris: Editions A. Pédone2000) p. 18. According to Plantey (on p. 20) sovereignty is also a necessary condition for diplomacy. The international diplomatic regime has a strong state-oriented nature; see Ben Rosamond ‘Conceptualizing the EU Model of Governance in World Politics’ European Foreign Affairs Review vol. 10 no. 4 2005 pp. 463-476 at p. 465.

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    Eileen DenzaDiplomatic Law: A Commentary on the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (Oxford: Oxford University Press2008) p. 31; and Plantey Principes de Diplomatie p. 204.

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    Rohit Ambast and Vinay Tyagi‘Ambassadors of Europe: An Insight into the Evolution of the European Union and International Diplomatic Law’Studia Diplomaticavol. LXI 2008 p. 16 available online at

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    See among others Simon Duke‘Providing for European-Level Diplomacy after Lisbon: The Case of the European External Action Service’The Hague Journal of Diplomacyvol. 4 no. 2 2009 pp. 211-233; Michael Emerson et al. Upgrading the EU’s Role as Global Actor (Brussels: CEPS 2011); Jan Wouters Dominic Coppens and Bart De Meester ‘The European Union’s External Relations after the Lisbon Treaty’ in Stefan Griller and Jacques Ziller (eds) The Lisbon Treaty: EU Constitutionalism Without a Constitutional Treaty? (Vienna: Springer 2008) pp. 143-203; and the introductory article of this special issue of The Hague Journal of Diplomacy.

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  • 36)

    RobertsSatow’s Diplomatic Practice p. 407. The member states are represented by the Commission in multilateral forums for the areas where the European Community has competence; this role has expanded extensively within and across competence sectors; see R.P. Barston Modern Diplomacy (Essex: Pearson Education 2006 3rd edition) p. 85.

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    Berridge Diplomacy p. 119; and Barston Modern Diplomacy pp. 134-135.

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    DenzaDiplomatic Law p. 119; Plantey Principes de Diplomatie p. 255; and Roberts Satow’s Diplomatic Practice p. 197. The most senior ambassador is the doyen of the diplomatic corps.

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    Ambast and Tyagi‘Ambassadors of Europe’ p. 16.

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    See ECJ Case C-286/90Anklagemyndigheden v. Peter Michael Poulsen and Diva Navigation Corp. [1992] ECR I-6019 para. 9; Case C-405/92 Etablissements Armand Mondiet SA v. Armement Islais SARL [1993] ECR I 6133 paras 13-15; Case C-162/96 A. Racke GmbH & Co. v. Hauptzollamt Mainz [1998] ECR I-3655 paras 45-46 and 51; Case C-308/06 Intertanko [2008] ECR I-4057 para. 51; Joined Cases C 402/05 P and C 415/05 P Kadi and Al Barakaat v. Council and Commission [2008] ECR I 6351 para. 291. See also European Court of First Instance Case T-115/94 Opel Austria GmbH v. Council [1997] ECR II-39; Marise Cremona ‘External Relations and External Competence of the European Union: The Emergence of an Integrated Policy’ in P. Craig and G. de Búrca (eds) The Evolution of EU Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2011) p. 237; and Paul Craig and Gráinne de Búrca EU Law: Text Cases and Materials (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2008) p. 204.

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