|The Right Honourable
The Baroness Ashton of Upholland
|High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy|
1 December 2009
|Preceded by||Javier Solana (High Representative for CFSP)
Benita Ferrero-Waldner (Commissioner for External Relations)
|First Vice President of the European Commission|
9 February 2010
|President||José Manuel Barroso|
|Preceded by||Margot Wallström|
|European Commissioner for Trade|
3 October 2008 – 1 December 2009
|President||José Manuel Barroso|
|Preceded by||Peter Mandelson|
|Succeeded by||Benita Ferrero-Waldner|
|Leader of the House of Lords
Lord President of the Council
27 June 2007 – 3 October 2008
|Prime Minister||Gordon Brown|
|Preceded by||The Baroness Amos|
|Succeeded by||The Baroness Royall of Blaisdon|
20 March 1956 |
Upholland, United Kingdom
|Spouse(s)||Peter Kellner (1988–present)|
|Residence||St Albans, United Kingdom|
|Alma mater||Bedford College|
||An editor has expressed a concern that this article lends undue weight to certain ideas, incidents, controversies or matters relative to the article subject as a whole. (February 2013)|
Catherine Ashton, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, PC (born 20 March 1956) is a British Labour politician who in 2009 became the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union. Under the Treaty of Lisbon, this post is combined with the post of Vice-President of the European Commission.
Her political career began in 1999 when she was created a Life Peer (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) by the Labour Government. Under this government she became the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Education and Skills in 2001 and subsequently in the Department for Constitutional Affairs and Ministry of Justice in 2004. She became a Privy Councillor (PC) in May 2006.
Catherine Ashton was appointed Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Queen's Privy Council in Gordon Brown’s first Cabinet in June 2007. As well as Leader of the Lords, she held responsibility in the House of Lords for equalities issues, and she was instrumental in steering the EU's Treaty of Lisbon through the UK's upper chamber. In 2008, she succeeded Peter Mandelson as Commissioner for Trade in the European Commission.
In December 2009, she became the first person to take on the role of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy that was created by the Treaty of Lisbon. As High Representative, Baroness Ashton serves as the EU's foreign policy chief.
Catherine Ashton was born in Upholland, Lancashire on 20 March 1956. She comes from a working class family, with a background in coal mining going back generations. She attended Upholland Grammar School in Billinge Higher End, Lancashire, then Wigan Mining and Technical College in Wigan. Ashton graduated with a BSc in Sociology in 1977 from Bedford College, London (now part of Royal Holloway, University of London). She was the first person in her family to attend University.
Early career in the United Kingdom
Between 1977 and 1983 Ashton worked for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) as an administrator and in 1982 was elected as its national treasurer and subsequently as one of its vice-chairs. From 1979 to 1981 she was Business Manager of The Coverdale Organisation, a management consultancy. As of 1983 she worked for the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work. From 1983 to 1989 she was Director of Business in the Community working with business to tackle inequality, and established the Employers' Forum on Disability, Opportunity Now, and the Windsor Fellowship. For most of the 1990s, she worked as a freelance policy adviser. She chaired the Health Authority in Hertfordshire from 1998 to 2001, and her children's school governing body, and became a Vice President of the National Council for One Parent Families.
She was made a Labour life peer as Baroness Ashton of Upholland in 1999, under Prime Minister Tony Blair. In June 2001 she was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Education and Skills. In 2002 she was appointed minister for Sure Start in the same department. In September 2004, she was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Department for Constitutional Affairs, with responsibilities including the National Archives and the Public Guardianship Office. Ashton was sworn of the Privy Council in 2006, and became Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the new Ministry of Justice in May 2007.
In 2005 she was voted "Minister of the Year" by The House Magazine and "Peer of the Year" by Channel 4. In 2006 she won the "Politician of the Year" award at the annual Stonewall Awards, awarded to those that have made a positive impact on the lives of British LGBT people.
On 28 June 2007 the new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, appointed her to the Cabinet as Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council. As Leader of the House, she was responsible for passing the Lisbon Treaty through the House of Lords.
EU Trade Commissioner
On 3 October 2008, she was nominated to replace Peter Mandelson as the UK's European Commissioner in Brussels. European Commissioners may not engage in any other occupation during their term of office, whether gainful or not so, in order to take up her position, she used the procedural device previously used in 1984 by Lord Cockfield and took a leave of absence from the House of Lords on 14 October 2008, retaining her peerage but not her seat.
Her appointment as Trade Commissioner was scrutinised by the European Parliament. She was criticised by Daniel Hannan, a British Conservative MEP, saying that she had "no background in trade issues at a time when the EU is engaged in critical negotiations with Canada, Korea and the WTO". However, following her public confirmation hearing by the Trade Committee of the European Parliament, Ashton was approved by the Parliament on 22 October 2008 with 538 to 40 votes, and 63 abstentions.
- In May 2009 after twenty years of disputes she represented the EU leading to an end of the beef war with US, 
- In October 2009 as Trade Commissioner she concluded what was described by some commentators as ‘the most important trade agreement ever negotiated between the European Union and a third country’ Ashton led the EU delegation in an agreement that removed virtually all tariffs between the two economies.  
- In November 2009 she represented the EU to end the twenty year old ‘banana wars’. "After so many twists and turns, these complicated and politically contentious disputes can finally be put to bed," said Pascal Lamy head of the World Trade Organisation, "It has taken so long that quite a few people who worked on the cases, both in the secretariat and in member governments have retired long ago”.
Appointment as High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
On 19 November 2009, Ashton was appointed the EU's first High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Her appointment was agreed by a summit of 27 European Union leaders in Brussels. After actively pushing for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to become President of the European Council, Gordon Brown eventually relented on the condition that the High Representative position was awarded to a Briton.
Baroness Ashton receives a salary package of £328,000, which is larger than the salaries of UK Prime Minister David Cameron, French President François Hollande, or US President Barack Obama. However, it is lower than the salary of the President of the European Commission.
Ashton's position also presides over several European institutions, including the European Union Institute for Security Studies as the Chair of its Board.
Controversy surrounding appointment
Ashton's relative obscurity caused considerable comment in the media with The Guardian newspaper reporting that her appointment as High Representative had received a 'cautious welcome as EU foreign minister from international relations experts'. The Economist described her as being a virtual unknown with paltry political experience, having no foreign-policy background and having never been elected to anything. The magazine did however credit her with having piloted the Lisbon Treaty through the House of Lords, having handled the European Commission's trade portfolio without falling out with her colleagues, and being suited to consensus-building.
On the one hand, critics say she is likely to be out of her depth, never having been elected to any office. For example, on her appointment, the associate editor of The Spectator, and former editor of BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Rod Liddle, wrote: "Never elected by anyone, anywhere, totally unqualified for almost every job she has done, she has risen to her current position presumably through a combination of down-the-line Stalinist political correctness and the fact that she has the charisma of a caravan site on the Isle of Sheppey." According to The Guardian, an anonymous Whitehall source remarked: "Cathy just got lucky...The appointment of her and Herman Van Rompuy [as European Council president] was a complete disgrace. They are no more than garden gnomes." On the other hand, Shami Chakrabarti, the director of a pressure group called Liberty, who became friends with Ashton when she was a minister at the Department of Constitutional Affairs, said her critics were wrong: "People underestimate Cathy at their peril. She is not a great big bruiser. She is a persuader and a charmer. That is the secret of her success." Her friend, Ian McCartney, MP, said on her appointment: "She is a Wigan girl who has really made good... She is supportive of working people and has never forgotten her roots." The morning after her appointment, Ashton told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Over the next few months and years I aim to show that I am the best person for the job. I hope that my particular set of skills will show that in the end I am the best choice."
Responsibilities as High Representative
As High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, a post that was combined with Vice-President of the European Commission, Ashton was elected by the Heads of State and Government of the 27 European Union countries at a summit in Brussels.
- As Vice-President of the European Commission, she participates in the weekly meeting of the European Commission.
- Participates in the meetings of the European Council, where all EU leaders meet.
- Is head of the European External Action Service
- Responsible for the European Union Special Representatives
- President of the Foreign Affairs Council
- President of the European Defence Agency
- Chair of the board of the European Union Institute for Security Studies
During her term in office she and her team have given priority to a number of European and global issues. These include:
- Participation in the Quartet negotiations on the Middle East Peace Process
- Leading European negotiations with Iran over its controversial Nuclear programme
- Responding to the Arab Spring with a new European Neighbourhood Policy (May 2011), to provide funding and market access to North Africa
- Supporting democratic forces in Libya by opening an EU office in Benghazi in May 2011 and supporting the National Transitional Council
- Building a European consensus to establish sanctions against the Assad regime in Syria
- Strengthening relations with the EU’s Strategic Partners such as the US, Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa
- In the Balkans, forging renewed talks between Serbs and Kosovars (“Belgrade-Pristina" dialogue)
- Negotiating an upgraded status for the EU at the UN as foreseen under the Lisbon Treaty
- Establishing the European External Action Service (1 December 2010), which merged the external relations departments of the European Commission, Council of the European Union, and will have diplomats seconded from national foreign services.
- In May 2012 as EU High Representative and working with EU Special Representative Alexander Rondos, she headed Operation Atalanta – an EU military action off the coast of Somalia, which curtailed piracy.
- On 24th April 2013, she played a major role in brokering a deal between Serbia and Kosovo which normalised their ties. This followed her mediation of 10 rounds of talks between Serbia's Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and Hashim Thaci, Prime Minister of Kosovo.
Ashton faced questions in the European Parliament over her role as national treasurer in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1980s, amid claims by its opponents that it may have had financial links to the Soviet Union. The eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party has written to Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, asking him to investigate whether Ashton was party to payments that he alleged were made to CND from the Soviet regime in Moscow. Ashton’s office refused to discuss CND’s funding in detail. It merely said that she “left CND in 1983 and had no involvement after that”.
In February 2010, it emerged that Ashton had been heavily criticised within the EU community for a number of actions, including her failure to visit Haiti in the wake of the earthquake and her lack of leadership abilities during ministerial meetings and policy briefings. Senior officials within her team complained that she speaks only in "generalities". She was also criticised for a lack of commitment to the job, allegedly switching off her phone after 8 pm every day. Ashton came under further criticism, including explicit criticism from national defence ministers Hervé Morin, Carme Chacón, Jack de Vries, and EU minister Pierre Lellouche, for her failure to attend the European Defence Summit in Majorca.
In February 2011, Baroness Ashton received the lowest grade in a survey rating the performance of European Commissioners. The survey, carried out by lobbying and PR company Burson-Marsteller, asked 324 Brussels policy-makers to rate the European Commissioners with a grade A to E (A being the highest). Lady Ashton, a commission vice-president as well as the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, scored an E for her performance. She was the only Commissioner to receive a grade below D.
In March 2012, Ashton was criticised by several newspapers for comparing the shooting of Jewish children in Toulouse with the situation in Gaza. Ashton said to Palestinian youths at a UNRWA event, “When we think of what happened in Toulouse today, when we remember what happened in Norway a year ago, when we know what is happening in Syria, when we see what is happening in Gaza and Sderot and in different parts of the world – we remember young people and children who lose their lives.” After she was misquoted in the press as having not mentioned Sderot, Israeli ministers denounced her for equating the murder of three children and a rabbi in the shooting attack with the situation in Gaza. Her spokesman stated that her remark had been “grossly distorted” and that she had also referenced Israeli victims in Sderot, but this fact had been incorrectly omitted from the original transcript.
In September 2012, the Daily Telegraph criticised her European Commission attendance record, reporting that Baroness Ashton had been completely absent from 21 out of 32 weekly meetings held so far that year.
Responses to criticism
Ashton has argued that much of the criticism she faces is a result of the "latent sexism" within the EU community. She has also told the press that the lack of resources provided to her, such as not having her own plane, is holding her back in her work.
European External Action Service (EEAS) Secretary General Pierre Vimont defended Ashton from criticism, stating that her work in opening the EEAA office in Benghazi, Libya has boosted the EEAS's popularity in Libya. He also supported her work on Syria and has asked her to stand for a second term. Polish Minister for European and Economic Affairs Mikolaj Dowgielewicz has also stated that criticism against Ashton is "a lot of hot air" and that "she has an impossible job to do and she is doing it well. At the end of her time in office, people will be more positive about what she has done. She will leave a real legacy."
Honours, awards and assessment
- "Low-Profile Leaders Chosen for Top European Posts". The New York Times. 19 November 2009. Retrieved 12 February 2013.
- EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton EU Commission (official website) Archived 18 January 2010 at WebCite
- Lady Ashton: Principled, charming ... or just plain lucky Nicholas Watt, Brussels, guardian.co.uk, Friday 20 November 2009 19.58 GMT
- La discréte Lady Europe, Le Monde, Marion Van Renterghem, Jeudi 10 décembre
- PROFILE: Catherine AshtonThe Sunday Times, 14 March 2010
- Who's Who
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- Development & Alumni Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London, "Alumni in the Media" Accessed: 19 November 2009 (archived by WebCite at WebCitation)
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- Waterfield, Bruno (20 March 2012). "Toulouse school shootings: Israel demands Baroness Ashton resign after she compares incident to Gaza". The Telegraph. Retrieved 20 March 2012.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Catherine Ashton|
- EU Vice President Catherine Ashton, Official Media Gallery
- HR website as Vice President of the European Commission for External Relations
- HR website in the Council of the European Union
- Biography from the Department for Constitutional Affairs
- Announcement of her introduction at the House of Lords House of Lords minutes of proceedings, 10 October 1999
- BBC News (19 November 2009): A profile of EU Foreign Minister Cathy Ashton
The Baroness Amos
|Leader of the House of Lords
The Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
|Lord President of the Council
|European Commissioner for Trade
|European Commissioner from the United Kingdom
as High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy
|High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
as European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy
|First Vice President of the European Commission
|Party political offices|
The Baroness Amos
|Leader of the Labour Party in the House of Lords
The Baroness Royall of Blaisdon