By Adrian Croft and Justyna Pawlak
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union's fledgling diplomatic service, which has faced criticism over its leadership and focus, should take a stronger role in drawing up sanctions and look at making its overseas posts more like embassies, an EU report said on Friday.
The European External Action Service was launched in 2011 under reforms intended to simplify EU decision-making and give the bloc, which now has 28 members, more clout in world affairs.
But the EEAS, which now has 3,400 staff and 139 delegations, has attracted criticism, with the European Parliament saying last month that its decision-making must be made more consistent, timely and cost-efficient and its structure simplified to make it fit for 21st century diplomacy.
More could be done to improve its political leadership and accountability, the parliament said.
Critics quoted in a British government report this week argued that the EEAS was unclear about its role and lacked expertise on energy and climate change, but others praised its work on Iran, Myanmar and the Horn of Africa.
The British head of the service, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said in a report to EU governments and the European Parliament that the early days of the EEAS had been like "trying to fly a plane while still bolting the wings on. The institutional challenges, and sometimes battles, were many."
Among her recommendations were that the EU should further develop the network of military and civilian security experts in its delegations around the world.
The report called for further debate on a possible consular role for EU delegations, although it said this would be subject to the agreement of EU governments and to member states providing more resources and expertise.
Providing consular protection for EU citizens in difficulties would make EEAS delegations more like traditional embassies and could be controversial for some EU states, such as Britain, which are suspicious of the EU intruding further on national competences.
Other recommendations were that EU delegations could share offices and support services with national embassies in some cities to save money, and that the EEAS' top management structure should be streamlined.
Ashton recommended giving the EEAS a stronger role in drawing up sanctions, which the EU has put in place against countries such as Iran over its nuclear program and Syria for its crackdown on rebels.
Her report said there was a strong case for transferring responsibilities for drawing up regulations needed to implement EU sanctions from the European Commission, the EU executive, to the EEAS or a joint unit.
The EU is currently carrying out 16 missions around the world, deploying more than 7,000 military or civilian personnel, ranging from training the Malian army to a counter-piracy mission off Somalia.
Ashton's report recommended overhauling the management and procedures for these missions and creating a single EU crisis response center working around the clock.
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)