The European External Action Service (EEAS) will allow the EU to become "a global player instead of a payer" on the international stage, said Elmar Brok (EPP, DE) who co-negotiated the Madrid deal with his fellow MEPs Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, BE) and Roberto Gualtieri (S&D, IT). He underlined Parliament's achievements in terms of safeguarding EP powers and defending the Community method.
"We don't want to drive the EU's foreign policy but we want to monitor it and want sensible budgetary decisions to be made", emphasised Mr Brok.
He reminded the House that the origin of the EEAS dates back to the Convention for the European Constitution, and said that "we have taken an important step towards the setting up of the EEAS with the Madrid agreement, although it is not yet final. Parliament still has to make up its mind on the staff regulation and budgetary issues on which we co-decide with the Council".
Guy Verhostadt was more categorical, saying that "the service has now been established". "Allow me to give one piece of advice", said Mr Verhostadt to Baroness Ashton. "Develop the service as a Community institution. It is only where the Community method is applied that we have had successes such as the internal market".
Roberto Gualtieri was glad that the EEAS will be closely linked to the Community method and democratically controlled.
Catherine Ashton paid tribute to the "constructive engagement of the Parliament and its negotiators whose work has improved the text for the EEAS decision in many ways".
"We have a good deal on the table. I'm submitting formally to the records of this meeting the two declarations on the political accountability and on the basic organisation of the service", she told MEPs. Some had had doubts as to the legal value of these declarations which form part of the Madrid agreement.
Charles Tannock (ECR, UK) said that Mrs Ashton had come out of this prolonged battle over the composition of the EEAS with some credit. "The British Conservatives are reconciled and ready to engage with the service", he said, adding that national MPs would need to be involved in the scrutiny of the EEAS and the EU defence missions.
"Human rights have been fully taken on board and I would like to encourage the High Representative to respect the Madrid agreement", said Heidi Hautala (Greens/EFA, FI), who chairs Parliament's Subcommittee on Human Rights.
During the debate, many MEPs raised the question of geographical representation. Baroness Ashton told them they had her support on that issue.
Ambiguous positions of certain governments criticised
"We have a good result that all institutions can support and be proud of. I say this despite the remarks made by the French Prime Minister, Mr Fillon, who said yesterday that the service can't go beyond certain red lines. I have to say to Mr Fillon: "you're too late!" "What we need is not a 'bataille d'arrière garde' [sic] but to use the service", Guy Verhofstadt told the House.
On behalf of the S&D group, the Austrian MEP Hannes Swoboda said that the "French government should withdraw its red lines as we have put together a very good draft that our group fully supports".
Mario Mauro (EPP, IT) referred to the "ambiguous positions" of certain governments on the EEAS, criticising the current visit of the Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, to Cuba.
Ulrike Lunacek (Greens/EFA, AT) raised the issue of the Common Security and Defence Policy structures inside the EEAS. The following structures are due to be under the direct responsibility of the High Representative: Crisis Management and Planning Directorate (CMPD), Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability (CPCC), Military Staff (EUMS) and Situation Centre (SitCen)). "If you move away from what the Member States want, you will have the support of this House", she told the High Representative.
Catherine Ashton answered that "full coordination between all the services of the EEAS, in particular between the CSDP structures and the other relevant services of the EEAS will be ensured".
Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (ALDE, DE) queried the compatibility of today's declaration with the declaration presented to COREPER, which said that the "specificities" of these structures as well as their particular functions, procedures and staffing conditions will be preserved.
GUE and EFD groups critical of Madrid deal
Willy Meyer (GUE/NGL, ES) announced that his group was not going to vote in favour of the report tomorrow. He said "it is a mistake to link the EEAS to military structures". He was also sceptical about the lack of prominence given to development policy.
For the EFD group, David Campbell Bannerman (UK) said "I believe that through the Lisbon Treaty, through Baroness Ashton's role, and the External Action Service, the European Union now has all four criteria it needs under international law to declare itself a single nation state, a United States of Europe, and to do so overnight".
Parliament will vote on the report on Thursday 8 July at noon.