The EU's newest member states are under-represented in the bloc's diplomatic service and among senior EU commission officials, Estonian president Toomas Ilves has said, urging the union's new leadership to alter the situation.
"So as not to be subjective, let's look at the figures. Out of 158 so-called European Union embassies, only one is headed by a diplomat from a new member state," Mr Ilves said in an interview with Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza on Monday (14 December).
Mr Ilves was referring to Herman Janos, the head of the EU's delegation to Norway since spring this year. The 57-year old is a Hungarian diplomat who studied in Budapest and in the Soviet Union, graduating in 1975 from the Moscow State University for International Relations.
The rest of the EU's top diplomats around the world come primarily from France, Germany, the UK and Spain. A pattern is visible so that EU delegations in former French colonies such as the Ivory Coast or Algeria are headed by French nationals, while Spaniards are sent to Latin American countries such as Venezuela and Colombia.
The EU's new rules, in force since 1 December, create an External Action Service, or diplomatic service, designed to give its external policy more coherence.
To date, the European Commission has had delegations in third countries. These have now been turned into embassies by the Lisbon Treaty. Meanwhile, recruitment for the new diplomatic corps will also come from national diplomatic services, which are likely to be predominant in the external action service in terms of personnel.
Within the commission itself, each member state has its own representative, in charge of a specific dossier, such as enlargement or trade. But in the top ranks of the so-called directorates, the units dealing with these policies on a day-to-day level, eastern Europeans are again under-represented, as Mr Ilves pointed out.
"There are 41 directorates-general in the EU. We're in our sixth year of membership, and none of them is headed by a director from a new member state. These are figures, not back-chat," he said.
The Estonian president called on the bloc's new leadership to change the situation. "Mister Van Rompuy, please explain this to me, I'm begging you! Why is it like this? I don't understand," he said.
Herman Van Rompuy, a former Belgian premier, will from 1 January chair all meetings of EU leaders as president of the European Council.
Estonia joined the EU in 2004, together with the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Cyprus and Malta also joined that year. In 2007, other two former communist countries, Bulgaria and Romania, also became members.