The Daily Telegraph published an article – later picked up by other media – on 18 July suggesting that the EU’s European External Action Service (EEAS) was “ordering a £2m dinner service fit for an emperor”. In fact it is launching a tender to supply all the crockery, cutlery and glasses, etc that all of its 140 “delegations” – equivalent to embassies – across the world will need for the next 4 years and doing so in the most economical way, with a flexible contract.
€3m is the absolute maximum that can be spent over four years, but only items actually needed and supplied will be paid for and the real amount spent is likely to be much less. The prices will be the normal rates for the kind of good quality but not extravagant materials that all diplomatic services would expect to use – for example around €10.50 (£7.50) for a plate, including all packing and transport charges
The online piece at least acknowledged in passing – though in a way that might bypass readers’ attention – that €3m was the maximum by referring to “buying a glittering dinner service that could cost as much as £2million”.
The article also contained a comparison between the “modest” cost of President Obama’s official dinner service and (EU foreign policy chief) “Federica Mogherini’s”. But alert readers will have spotted that comparing the cost of a single White House dinner service to that of potentially hundreds of dinner services to be used in EU embassies across the world is not a comparison at all.
The bottom line is that all diplomatic operations have to host events and that means buying crockery and replacing it when it breaks or is worn. The best and cheapest way to do that is to set up a central bulk contract allowing as much or as little as necessary to be bought over a given time period. Launching a separate tender each time would be much more costly.
The EEAS budget is lower than those of many national diplomatic services.
As for purchasing property, another issue raised in the article, the EEAS does this only where it saves money compared to renting.