Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Flip-flopping Ashton

New EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton has faced MEPs today for an informal grilling. It is not her official European Parliament confirmation hearing - that will come later in January.

Interestingly, Lady Ashton is described as "dodging a hail of bullets" by the Times for her failure to answer in any detail, questions on issues of foreign policy such as Turkey's EU accession bid, the Honduran Presidential election, Georgia, EU policy on the Arctic, etc.

This policy tapdancing earned a rebuke from the German Liberal MEP Alexander Lambsdorff who said: "I do have to say we want more specific answers from you when you come back to us in January."

She responded: "At my hearing there will be more considered policies...This is brand new. I do not have an office, I do not have a Cabinet, I do not have a team. I inherited a blank piece of paper and at the moment I have written one or two small things on it."

Hmm... brand new? Nothing but a blank piece of paper? That's not what you said when you were nursing the Lisbon Treaty through the House of Lords.

Responding to concerns about the unclear remit of the post and the general ambiguity of the Treaty, Baroness Ashton of Upholland told the Lords in April 2008, "Noble Lords have rightly indicated that the high representative brings together the current high representative introduced in Amsterdam [Treaty] and the Commissioner for External Relations. As I said it is an important move."

She added, "The proposal is that we have a high representative who becomes the vice-president of the Commission with very specific functions. That is a defined role within the treaty which is vested in one person."

So... the EU's new Foreign Minister, who once said that the job would simply bring together two existing roles, and would have very specific functions, is now admitting that her job description is so ill-defined in the Treaty that within two weeks of her appointment, she still has no real idea what her job either means or will entail and the Treaty provisions are in fact a blank cheque... which is exactly what we have said would be the consequence of so much of the vague and ill-thought out language in the Lisbon Treaty.

We also came across this other rather telling tidbit from the Noble Lady in the same Lords session from 2008: "The new title makes it absolutely clear that the high representative will represent the agreed views of member states. He will not in any sense be a Foreign Minister."

Yet less than two weeks ago, in a press conference following the announcement of Cathy Ashton's new job, Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said: "The Secretary of State of the United States should call Cathy Ashton, because she is our Foreign Minister, if I may say so."

How quickly these people change their tune.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's a bit too early to judge this one. Will she make a difference to her predecessor? (the EU has had a high rep for a while now)

Whilst the short hand job title may be "EU foreign minister", it remains to be seen whether it has any substance in reality. After all, there is more than just having a fancy job title (i doubt many would realise that a "President of Germany" also exists!)

Given the way in which Member State national governments elected the new "EU president" and "foreign minister" - and the fact they selected two unknowns, suggests that they will not be to willing to cede their power to new actors in the EU game!