Catherine Ashton

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The Right Honourable
The Baroness Ashton of Upholland
PC
Baroness Ashton headshot.jpg
High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Incumbent
Assumed office
1 December 2009
Preceded by Javier Solana (Common Foreign and Security Policy)
Benita Ferrero-Waldner (External Relations)
First Vice President of the European Commission
Incumbent
Assumed office
9 February 2010
President José Manuel Barroso
Preceded by Margot Wallström
European Commissioner for Trade
In office
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
In office
27 June 2007 – 3 October 2008
Prime Minister Gordon Brown
Preceded by The Baroness Amos
Succeeded by The Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
Personal details
Born (1956-03-20) 20 March 1956 (age 58)
Upholland, United Kingdom
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Peter Kellner (1988–present)
Alma mater Bedford College

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.

Ashton was appointed Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council in Gordon Brown’s first Cabinet in June 2007. She was instrumental in steering the EU's Treaty of Lisbon through the UK's upper chamber. In 2008, she was appointed as the U.K.'s 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, Ashton serves as the EU's foreign policy chief.[1]

Despite being criticised for her inexperience, particularly at the time of her appointment and in the early stages of her term of office, Ashton has won praise for her work as a negotiator in difficult international situations, in particular for her role in bringing Serbia and Kosovo to an agreement in April 2013 that normalized their ties and in the P5+1 talks with Iran which led to the November 2013 Geneva interim agreement on Iranian nuclear program.[2]

Personal life

Catherine Ashton was born in Upholland, Lancashire, on 20 March 1956.[3][4] She comes from a working-class family, with a background in coal mining.[5][6] She attended Upholland Grammar School in Billinge Higher End, Lancashire, then Wigan Mining and Technical College in Wigan.[7] Ashton graduated with a bachelor of science degree 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.[5][6][8][9][10]

Ashton lives in St Alban's[11] with her husband, Peter Kellner, the president of an online polling organisation, YouGov.[12] She has two children and three stepchildren.[13]

Career

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.[14][15] As of 1983 she worked for the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work.[16] From 1983 to 1989 she was director of Business in the Community, working with business to tackle inequality, and she established the Employers' Forum on Disability, Opportunity Now, and the Windsor Fellowship.[citation needed] For most of the 1990s, she was a freelance policy adviser.[9][17] She chaired the Health Authority in Hertfordshire from 1998 to 2001 and she became a vice-president of the National Council for One-Parent Families.[citation needed]

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 made minister for Sure Start in the same department., and in September 2004 she was appointed parliamentary under-secretary in the Department for Constitutional Affairs, with responsibilities that included the National Archives and the Public Guardianship Office. Ashton was sworn of the Privy Council in 2006, and she became parliamentary under-secretary of state at the new Ministry of Justice in May 2007.[citation needed]

In 2005 she was voted "Minister of the Year" by The House Magazine and "Peer of the Year" by Channel 4.[citation needed] In 2006 she won the "Politician of the Year" award at the annual Stonewall Awards, made to those who had a positive impact on the lives of British LGBT people.[18]

On 28 June 2007, Prime Minister Gordon Brown appointed Ashton to the cabinet as Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council.[19] As Leader, she was responsible for steering the Lisbon Treaty through the Lords.[20]

European Union

On 3 October 2008, Ashton was nominated to replace Peter Mandelson as the UK's European Commissioner in Brussels. Because European Commissioners may not engage in any other occupation during their term of office, whether gainful or not,[21] she used the procedural device previously adopted in 1984 by Lord Cockfield[22] and took a leave of absence from the House of Lords on 14 October 2008,[23] retaining her peerage but not her seat.[24]

During her term, Ashton represented the EU in negotiations leading to a long running dispute over beef war with the United States. (May 2009.),[25] led the EU delegation in an agreement with South Korea that removed virtually all tariffs between the two economies. (October 2009.)[26][27][28] and represented the EU in ending a long-running dispute over banana imports, principally involving Latin America and the EU.[29]

Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

Ashton with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

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. Having initially pushed 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 be awarded to a Briton.[30][31]

Ashton's relative obscurity prior to her appointment occasioned comment in the media. The Guardian newspaper reported that her appointment as High Representative had received a "cautious welcome... from international relations experts".[32] The Economist described her as being a virtual unknown with paltry political experience, having no foreign-policy background and never having been elected to anything. The magazine credited her, however, with piloting the Lisbon Treaty through the House of Lords, handling the European Commission's trade portfolio without disagreement with her colleagues, and being suited to consensus-building.[33]

Critics predicted she would be out of her depth. Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation, who is on record as opposed to a European Union role in foreign and security policy on principle,[34] wrote in the Daily Telegraph "This may well be the most ridiculous appointment in EU history".[35] Daniel Hannan, a British Conservative MEP, complained 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".[36] The Guardian quoted an anonymous Whitehall source as commenting "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."[4]

By contrast, former Home Secretary Charles Clarke said: "I have seen Cathy in action. I have great respect for her. She is excellent at building good relations with people and a good negotiator". Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, a human-rights pressure group, said: "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."[4]

After a confirmation hearing by the Trade Committee of the European Parliament, Ashton was approved by the Parliament on 22 October 2008 by 538 to 40 votes, with 63 abstentions.[37] She took office on 1 December 2009 for a five-year-term.

Notable events of her term

Ashton and Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, the first round of Comprehensive agreement on Iranian nuclear program, Feb 2014

Notable events of her term have included:

  • Establishing the European External Action Service (1 December 2010), which merged the external relations departments of the European Commission, and the Council of the European Union, and was to have diplomats seconded from national foreign services. Throughout the first half of 2010 Ashton sought agreement between the Council, the Parliament and the Commission over the shape of the EEAS. Parliament agreed to the plan on 8 July, when MEPs approved the service by 549 votes for and 78 against with 17 abstentions. The Council approved the transfer of departments to the EAS on 20 July. Until the EEAS became operational, Ashton had been supported by a staff of about 30 people.[38]
  • Working with EU Special Representative Alexander Rondos to head Operation Atalanta – an EU military action off the coast of Somalia, which curtailed piracy. (May 2012.)[39][40]
  • Helping to reach a deal[41] between Serbia and Kosovo that normalised their ties. (April 2013.)[42][43][44]
  • Successfully negotiating with the Egyptian Army a visit to the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, in their custody.[45] She reported that he was in good health and was well-treated and aware of current affairs. (July 2013.)[46][47]
  • Chairmanship of the P5+1 in their negotiations with Iran on nuclear matters in 2013, which led to the Geneva interim agreement on the Iranian nuclear program. (November 2013.)[2][48]
  • Her visit to Kiev during Ukraine's Euromaidan protests,[49] which were to help bring about the fall of the Yanukovych Government (December 2013).


Serbia-Kosovo

In April 2013, after two years of negotiations, the governments of Serbia and Kosovo reached agreement to normalize their relations. Although Serbia did not formally recognize Kosovo as an independent state, it did "in effect - concede that the government in Pristina has legal authority over the whole territory, including Serb-majority areas of northern Kosovo".[50] In return, Kosovo agreed to grant a degree of autonomy to four Serb-majority areas. The agreement, which among other things removed obstacles to Serbia and Kosovo joining the European Union, followed Ashton's mediation of 10 rounds of talks between Serbia's Prime Minister, Ivica Dacic, and Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci. A cross party committee of the U.S. House of Representatives nominated Ashton and her fellow negotiators Dacic and Thaci for the Nobel Peace Prize.[51] A similar nomination came from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament [52]

Iran

After the November 2013 negotiation of an interim agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, the Financial Times wrote that Ashton was "no longer the diplomatic dilettante". A senior French diplomat was quoted as saying, "I tip my hat to her.... She truly played a decisive role". The report continued that, after initially insisting on negotiating only with other foreign ministers, by the latter stages of the negotiations the Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif "now... wanted to deal only with Lady Ashton". Said a western diplomat, "That the others agreed to this was significant. For China and Russia to be outside while she was in the room negotiating details was quite remarkable".[53]

Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with Ashton, Munich, February 1, 2014

In December 2013 Ashton visited Kiev. She said she was impressed by the "determination of Ukrainians demonstrating for the European perspective of their country" and observed "with sadness that police used force to remove peaceful people from the center of Kiev... Dialogue with political forces and society and the use of arguments is always better than the argument of force".[49] Subsequently, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin criticized Ashton's categorization of the anti-government protests in Kiev as peaceful in nature, pointing to the death of a number of police officers: "If these are peaceful protests, then Ashton is a ballerina".[54]

At the beginning of March a recording of a conversation between Ashton and the Estonian minister Urmas Paet was released. In the call, Paet said he had been told by a woman doctor named Olga that snipers responsible for killing police and civilians in Kiev last month were protest movement provocateurs rather than supporters of then-president Viktor Yanukovych. Ashton responds: "I didn't know … Gosh." "So there is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition," Paet says. Ashton replies: "I think we do want to investigate. I didn't pick that up, that's interesting. Gosh," Ashton says. The Estonian foreign ministry confirmed the accuracy of the leak but clarified that "Foreign Minister Paet was giving an overview of what he had heard in Kiev and expressed concern over the situation on the ground. We reject the claim that Paet was giving an assessment of the opposition's involvement in the violence."[55]

On 28 March 2014, Ashton issued a statement condemning violence by members of Right Sector.[56]

Russia

President Putin signed the new treason law on November 12, 2012. Ashton expressed concern at the new law “potentially penalizing contacts with foreign nationals with up to 20 years in prison” and reducing “the burden of proof for charges of treason and espionage.”. The United Nations Committee Against Torture stated that the new law could prohibit sharing information on the human rights situation in Russia with the United Nations human rights organs. According to Ashton the March 2013 inspection wave in Russia seemed aimed at “undermining civil society activities.” [57]

Assessments

Ashton (far right) with the rest of the Quartet on the Middle East (2010)

Early Phase in Office

Ashton was subject to considerable criticism in the early stages of her term in office, some of it picking up on issues raised by critics at the time of her original appointment. She was questioned by Members of the European Parliament in 2009 about her role as national treasurer in the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1980s, amid claims by its opponents that it may have had financial links to the Soviet Union. Ashton responded that she had not taken any “direct money from communist countries”. Much of the organisation’s funds had been “collected in buckets" at marches and demonstrations, she said, adding that she was the first to order an audit of CND’s finances.[58] Ashton's spokesman said: "She never visited the Soviet Union, she had no contacts with the Soviet Union and she never accepted money from Soviet sources ... She has never been a member of the Communist Party".[59]

In February 2010, Ashton was criticised within the EU community for not visiting Haiti in the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake.[60] A number of defense ministers reportedly also complained that she had not attended a European Defence Summit in Majorca.[61] More broadly, senior officials within her team were said to complain that she spoke only in "generalities".[60] A rumor that she switched off her phone after 8 pm every day was greeted by Ashton with ridicule.[60][62]

In February 2011, 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 of A to E (A being the highest). Ashton scored an E for her performance, the only Commissioner to receive a grade below D.[63]

In March 2012, Ashton was criticised by Israeli politicians for comparing the shooting of Jewish children in Toulouse with the situation in Gaza.[64][65] Ashton told 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.”[66] After she was quoted in the press as not having mentioned the Israeli city of Sderot, Israeli politicians 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 omitted from the original transcript.[67][68][69]

Ashton and Russian President Vladimir Putin, June 3, 2013

In counterpoint to earlier criticism of Ashton for not traveling enough, in September 2012 the Daily Telegraph criticised her for not being present in Brussels for enough European Commission meetings, reporting that Ashton had missed 21 out of 32 regular weekly meetings held so far that year. To the paper's complaint that Ashton's absences were "leaving Britain without a voice" at such meetings, European diplomatic officials said that, under EU treaties, commissioners serve as representatives not of individual member countries but of the European interest. Ashton's staff also pointed to her personal involvement in nuclear negotiations with Iran as among the international responsibilities that had kept her away from Commission meetings.[70]

The Polish Minister for European and Economic Affairs, Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, stated in 2011 that criticism of Ashton was "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."[71]

Ashton was said in February 2010 to be angry over what she perceived as the "latent sexism" among some of her European peers that underpinned some of the criticisms aimed at her.[60] She told the press that her work was sometimes hampered by the limited resources provided to her. She is not, for example, provided with her own airplane: something taken for granted by U.S. Secretaries of State.[72]

Later Phase in Office

The tone of public comment on Aston's performance in office was subsequently to be influenced especially by her contributions to negotiations over Kosovo and Iran. In October 2013, Der Spiegel wrote of her:

But now the 57-year-old baroness is suddenly at the center of world diplomacy. And whenever she is mentioned, she earns praise for her hard-nosed negotiating skills, her stamina and her diplomatic talents. It is said that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has much faith in her. "She is discrete and perceptive, but also tenacious. That makes her an ideal negotiator," says Alexander Graf Lamsdorff, the head of Germany's business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) in the European Parliament and a member of its Committee on Foreign Affairs.[73]

One of the critics of Ashton's appointment came to concede her effectiveness in office. In September 2013, Peter Oborne, the chief political commentator of the Daily Telegraph, wrote:

Well, let’s admit we were all completely wrong. It is now obvious that Catherine Ashton has been a success. In her unobtrusive but determined way, she can boast real achievement. Last year a peace deal was struck between Serbia and Kosovo. Nobody had thought it possible. It was a massive step towards healing ancient hatreds and building economic prosperity. It was brokered by Baroness Ashton.... I have never met Baroness Ashton but I guess that one of her secrets is that she keeps her head down, does not flaunt her ego, and allows others to take the credit. It takes little imagination to envisage how a male politician from any of the main parties would have exploited the Kosovo peace-deal, or the Morsi visit. She just kept her head down and quietly got on with her job.[74]

However there was renewed criticism of her inexperience after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in July 2014, the Daily Mail commenting

Don’t look, either, to the EU, where the know-nothing former local council officer Lady Ashton, ludicrously in charge of foreign affairs, has poked the Russian bear with a puny stick by attempting to lure Ukraine into the Brussels fold. [75]

and in the same month, as discussions took place on the identity of her successor, Paul Taylor wrote in the New York Times

While Ms. Ashton had some successes, brokering a first accord between Serbia and Kosovo and leading negotiations for an interim nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, critics say she has too often been missing in action closer to home.[76]

Titles and styles

  • Miss Catherine Ashton (1956–1988)
  • Mrs Catherine Ashton (1988–1999)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Baroness Ashton of Upholland (1999–2006)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Baroness Ashton of Upholland PC (2006–)

Honours and awards

In February 2013, Ashton was assessed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom by Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4.[77]

She was awarded an honorary degree from the University of East London in 2005.[78]

On July 1, 2014, she received White Double-Cross, 2nd class, honour from the Slovakia's president Andrej Kiska for "strengthening and pursuing of common foreign and security policy of the EU".[79]

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  78. ^ "UEL Alumni Newsletter". 
  79. ^ Press report of TASR

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
The Baroness Amos
Leader of the House of Lords
2007–2008
Succeeded by
The Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
Lord President of the Council
2007–2008
Preceded by
Peter Mandelson
European Commissioner for Trade
2008–2009
Succeeded by
Benita Ferrero-Waldner
European Commissioner from the United Kingdom
2008–present
Incumbent
Preceded by
Javier Solana
as High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy
High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
2009–present
Preceded by
Benita Ferrero-Waldner
as European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy
Preceded by
Margot Wallström
First Vice President of the European Commission
2010–present
Party political offices
Preceded by
The Baroness Amos
Leader of the Labour Party in the House of Lords
2007–2008
Succeeded by
The Baroness Royall of Blaisdon