Catherine Ashton

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The Right Honourable
The Baroness Ashton of Upholland
MSC 2014 Ashton Mueller MSC2014.jpg
High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Assumed office
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
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)
Residence St Albans, United Kingdom
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 significant criticism at the time of her appointment and in the early stages of her term of office, subsequently Ashton 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]

In February 2014 and subsequently, Ashton attracted criticism from Russian official sources for her stance towards the political crisis in Ukraine. Among other Russian critiques, a Deputy Prime Minister took issue with her assertion that the anti-government protests in Kiev were peaceful in nature, pointing to the death toll, including a number of police officers.[3]

Personal life

Catherine Ashton was born in Upholland, Lancashire, on 20 March 1956.[4][5] She comes from a working-class family, with a background in coal mining.[6][7] She attended Upholland Grammar School in Billinge Higher End, Lancashire, then Wigan Mining and Technical College in Wigan.[8] 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.[6][7][9][10][11]

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


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.[10][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]

Her appointment as Trade Commissioner was scrutinised by the European Parliament. She was criticised by Daniel Hannan, a British Conservative MEP, who said 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".[25] Nevertheless, 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.[26]

During her term, Ashton represented the EU in negotiations leading to a long running dispute over beef war with the United States. (May 2009.),[27] led the EU delegation in an agreement with South Korea that removed virtually all tariffs between the two economies. (October 2009.)[28][29][30] and represented the EU in ending a long-running dispute over bananas imports , principally involving Latin America and the EU.[31]

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.[32][33] Ashton's relative obscurity prior to her appointment occasioned a good deal of comment with some critics predicting she would soon be out of her depth.[34] [5][35][36][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 will 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]
  • Encouragement of Euromaidan protests in Kiev, Ukraine,[49] which led to the fall of Yanukovitch Government and subsequent Russian annexation of Crimea.(Dec 2013-)


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 her for the Nobel Peace Prize for her role in facilitating this agreement.[51] She was also nominated for this prize, along with Ivica Dacic and Hashim Thaci by the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament [52]


In December 2013 Ashton visited Kiev to show support for Euromaidan protestors.[49] Following the resignation of President Yanukovitch a recording was released of a telephone conversation between Ashton and the Estonian minister Urmas Paet where they discussed claims that snipers from within the new coaltion had fired on unarmed protestors.[53] On 28 March Ashton issued a statement condemning violence by members of Right Sector.[54]


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

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.[55] 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".[56]

In February 2010, Ashton was criticised within the EU community for not visiting Haiti in the wake of the earthquake.[citation needed] A number of defense ministers reportedly also complained that she had not attended a European Defence Summit in Majorca.[57] More broadly, senior officials within her team were said to complain that she spoke only in "generalities".[citation needed] A rumor that she switched off her phone after 8 pm every day was greeted by Ashton with ridicule.[58][59]

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.[60]

In March 2012, Ashton was criticised by Israeli politicians for comparing the shooting of Jewish children in Toulouse with the situation in Gaza.[61][62] 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.”[63] 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.[64][65][66]

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.[67]

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."[68]

European External Action Service Secretary General Pierre Vimont also defended Ashton from criticism, stating that her work in opening the service's office in Benghazi, Libya, had boosted the organization's popularity in Libya. He also supported her work on Syria and said he had asked her to stand for a second term.

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.[58] 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.[69]

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.[70]

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.[71]

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".[72]

David Blair in the Daily Telegraph, in an article entitled "From Zero to Hero",[73] said Ashton had 'faced down the snootiness of French diplomats, and what she once called the "latent sexism" of Brussels, to become the unlikely peacemaker between America and Iran'. There was also recognition of her role in the UK House of Commons.[74] Douglas Alexander MP stated 'In particular, the work of the European Union High Representative Baroness Cathy Ashton has been fundamental. Indeed, as the Foreign Secretary acknowledged in his statement—a little late, I would argue—she was “indispensable” to ensuring that agreement was finally reached.' William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said in the same debate, 'I am never lacking in effusion for the role of Baroness Ashton. She has handled things brilliantly, particularly in creating confidence between the Iranian negotiators and the E3 plus 3 team.'

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.[75]

She was awarded an honorary degree from the University of East London in 2005.[76]


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  3. ^
  4. ^ EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton EU Commission (official website) Archived 18 January 2010 at WebCite
  5. ^ a b Lady Ashton: Principled, charming ... or just plain lucky Nicholas Watt, Brussels,, Friday 20 November 2009 19.58 GMT
  6. ^ a b La discréte Lady Europe, Le Monde, Marion Van Renterghem, Jeudi 10 décembre
  7. ^ a b PROFILE: Catherine AshtonThe Sunday Times, 14 March 2010
  8. ^ Who's Who
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  10. ^ a b Dept of Politics & International Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London, "Movers and Shakers among the Department's former students" Accessed 19 November 2009 (archived by WebCite at WebCitation)
  11. ^ 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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  14. ^ The Baroness Ashton of Upholland, PC Debretts entry
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  16. ^ John Minnion and Philip Bolsover (eds.) The CND Story, Alison and Busby, 1983, ISBN 978-0-85031-487-8
  17. ^ "Profile: EU foreign minister Baroness Ashton". BBC News. 6 December 2010. Archived from the original on 18 January 2010. Retrieved 8 January 2011. 
  18. ^ "Gay rights advocate Cathy Ashton is new EU foreign affairs chief". 20 November 2009. Retrieved 21 November 2009. 
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  20. ^ Profile: Baroness Ashton, EU's new foreign minister, Daily Telegraph, Bruno Waterfield in Brussels, 20 November 2009 Archived 18 January 2010 at WebCite
  21. ^ Under Article 213 of the Treaty establishing the European Community as amended: Rome Treaty (TEC): PART IV Title I Chapter 1 Section 3: The Commission, Articles 211 to 219
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  31. ^ "Stabroek news report". Retrieved 2013-05-09. 
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  35. ^ page12 The Economist 28 November-4 December 2009
  36. ^ See, for example, "Four Key Principles for a Conservative British Foreign Policy", Web Memo 2911, The Heritage Foundation, 21 May 2010. Accessed on 12/1/13 at:
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  40. ^ "Consilium Report". Retrieved 2013-05-09. 
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  46. ^ Catherine Ashton's report of her visit to Mr. Morsi: VIDEO
  47. ^ "How Baroness Ashton's gift for consensus opened the door to Mohamed Morsi. She has been criticised for a 'soft power' image, but the EU foreign policy chief was the first diplomat to convince the military in Egypt to allow access to the ex-president for 'frank' talks that left her hopeful for the future of democracy" The Observer, 4 August 2013
  48. ^ Laurence Norman and Jay Solomon (9 November 2013). "Iran Nuclear Talks End Without Deal". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  49. ^ a b
  50. ^ Morris, Chris. "EU's Ashton sees "brave" Kosovo deal as Breakthrough". BBC News. 24 April 2013. Accessed on 12/2/13 at:
  51. ^ The Wall Street Journal |url= missing title (help). 
  52. ^
  53. ^ "Estonia denies leaked call implicates Ukraine protesters in killings". Reuters. 5 March 2014. 
  54. ^
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  57. ^ Baroness Ashton under fire for missing European defence summitThe Times, 26 February 2010, David Charter and Graham Keeley
  58. ^ a b French 'sexism' blamed for attacks on Baroness Ashton By Vanessa Mock in Brussels, The Independent, Tuesday, 16 February 2010
  59. ^ Interview in The Observer, 4 July 2013 "There was even a damaging rumour that she turned off her phone every night at 8pm." Ashton's response: "I've never turned my phone off in four years," she says. "I'm never out of reach, I'm never off duty and I never refuse to take messages unless I'm on a plane. It was a rumour that went around for reasons I don't understand. It's never been true."
  60. ^ "Baroness Ashton bottom of class as she 'fails' first year in office" by Bruno Waterfield, Brussels in The Daily Telegraph ,9 February 2011
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  62. ^ Shefler, Gil (2012). "EU's Ashton compares Toulouse shooting to Gaza situation (Paywall)". Retrieved 20 March 2012. 
  63. ^ "Speech by High Representative Catherine Ashton at the high-level conference Engaging youth—Palestine Refugees in the changing Middle East". 2012. Retrieved 20 March 2012. 
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  68. ^ Carroll, Dean (6 September 2011) Catherine Ashton for a second term at the EEAS?, Public Service Europe. Retrieved 20 September 2011
  69. ^ Ashton throws down the gauntlet over Gaza trip by Andrew Rettman, 08.03.2010. Retrieved 09.03.2010.
  70. ^ Schmitz, Gregor Peter and Christoph Schult. "Iran Nuclear Talks: Europe's Unsung Chief Diplomat." Spiegel Online International. 1 October 2013. Accessed on 12/30/13 at:
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  72. ^ Spiegeleisen, Peter. "Ashton no longer the diplomatic dilettante". Financial Times, 27 November 2013.
  73. ^ Blair, David (24 November 2013). "From Zero to Hero". London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 3 December 2013. 
  74. ^ "House of Commons Proceedings". Hansard. Retrieved 3 December 2013. 
  75. ^ BBC Radio 4, Woman's Hour Power list
  76. ^ "UEL Alumni Newsletter". 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
The Baroness Amos
Leader of the House of Lords
Succeeded by
The Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
Lord President of the Council
Preceded by
Peter Mandelson
European Commissioner for Trade
Succeeded by
Benita Ferrero-Waldner
European Commissioner from the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Javier Solana
as High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy
High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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
Party political offices
Preceded by
The Baroness Amos
Leader of the Labour Party in the House of Lords
Succeeded by
The Baroness Royall of Blaisdon