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Ashton: I want real EU diplomacy with means

Ashton-UE0912.jpg(BRUSSELS2) Yesterday evening, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, behind closed doors, Catherine Ashton, the High Representative was a little at home, welcomed in the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) room, for an exchange of views, behind closed doors. It is traditional, in fact, for commissioners to meet their political family in small groups for an “informal” dialogue. They do the same with other political groups or the presidents of interested committees. This is an intelligent way to prepare for the future audition. The High Representative will, in fact, be the first of the commissioners to be heard by the European Parliament's committees (external affairs, defense, development). It will be January 11th. It is also traditional for the journalist to try to find out more, by hiding a little. What I did (to tell the truth I was a little alone…).

For a real diplomatic service

In the room, Catherine Ashton explained her future work, how she intended to take it on, and her different priorities. Nothing much new compared to the first hearing on December 2, in the opinion of all participants. But still a dialogue lasting a good hour, a little more specific on certain subjects. So on theIraq, Ashton did not want to distance himself from Tony Blair's position: “it was simple, either I left the government or I stayed. In fact – she added – we were probably not really prepared for this war”. And we didn't have all the information in our possession. About the United States, she recently met Hillary Clinton who congratulated her; she thus believes that EU-USA relations could be marked by “less opacity and more trust”. Ashton thus showed herself to be a supporter of a European policy which could “not depend all the time on American policy”. On the other hand, on delicate issues like Palestine, she did not want to comment and go further. Its first priority is to “establish the external action service”. She wants to make it a “real service, to lead the diplomacy of the Union” she assured, “with the necessary budgetary means, not to replace the diplomacy of the Member States but to add to it”. This is his first priority. And to dare a touch of humor: “ We'll see if I can make it through Christmas », referring to his “full top agenda”. “ I have at least 500 appointments scheduled for the year » she explained. However, during her hearing at the beginning of January, she asked for more time to answer the questions, so as not to be accused by certain MPs (particularly British) of not answering the questions.

A female voice that goes well

Catherine Ashton, whom I managed to question at the exit, for about 45 seconds, until a bodyguard appeared, had only one word: “ I am very happy to do this job, I take it on with honesty ". And indeed, this is the word that seems to come back on the lips of many deputies. As the Portuguese Ana Gomes explains, “ What I like most about her is her open, honest attitude. She is very aware of her abilities, does not pretend to know everything or want to deceive us. Its very important. She has a good general approach, strategic questions”. " She is square added the Frenchwoman Pervenche Bérès. " That it is criticized by diplomats is rather a good thing for me explained his compatriot Kader Arif. " Having a socialist voice in foreign policy is important. But what also seems important to me is that there is a desire to exchange with parliamentarians, human qualities, this is important in political matters. ". " VS'is a pure product of the Civil Service » completes the Romanian Ioan Mircea Pascu « She's not brilliant in the usual sense, but she's definitely in good spirits. She will be able to perfectly set up the external action service ". For the British Labor Party Cashman, " She has really good knowledge, she is enthusiastic. And then someone who was able to negotiate the Lisbon Treaty in front of the House of Lords cannot really be bad » he assured. In this concert of rather praising remarks, there are still a few hiccups: “we learn nothing” said one, “she doesn't answer any questions – said the other – itis ch…”.Negative comments, especially from men, one might notice…


Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).