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Catherine Ashton's answers to the Parliament's questionnaire

(BRUSSELS2) As usual, the European Parliament has asked each commissioner to complete a written questionnaire, which will be distributed to all MEPs before the hearings. Here are the answers of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton. His hearing is scheduled for January 11 (detailed schedule). Not much really transcendent. But useful all the same. I deliver it to your sagacity… -:)

General jurisdiction

THEnegotiation experience

« I have practical experience of European politics and negotiation both at the intergovernmental level and as Trade Commissioner. As Leader of the House of Lords, I steered the Lisbon Treaty through that House. My work as a UK Justice Minister in the Justice and Home Affairs Council included chairing that Council during the United Kingdom Presidency in 2005. As Trade Commissioner, I have built a strong relationship with strategic partners such as the US and China. This included chairing the EU-China High Level Economic and Trade Dialogue together with Vice Premier Wang Qishan. I believe in cooperation at the global level to address global issues, and I have advocated EU leadership both in the G20 and in the WTO. I have initialled a ground-breaking trade agreement with South Korea; have advanced our partnerships with ACP countries, and have solved difficult trade disputes, such as the one on beef with the US. "

The title of Baroness: Ashton keeps it

« As you are aware I am a life peer. I am not able to renounce my title of 'Baroness' as it is given to me for life. By virtue of my title, I have a place in the UK House of Lords. For the term of my mandate as Commissioner I have taken leave of absence from the Lords and have taken the necessary steps to ensure that there is no conflict between my status as Baroness and my duties as Commissioner. This means that, although I retain my title, I would not attend the House of Lords, nor take part in votes, give speeches there, or draw any allowances during the period of my mandate. »

Information from Parliament (but not more ?)

« The Lisbon Treaty is clear that I must keep you informed and that I will consult you on the basic choices we face on the Common Foreign and Security Policy. I believe this should include providing the Parliament with information on ongoing negotiations as well as on key issues/events and key relationships. (…) Close cooperation with the European Parliament would also mean participating regularly in Plenary sessions and making myself available in order to explain and report on what the European Union is doing and why in the Committees. »

Three main priorities?

Foreign Service

« My first priority will be to build the European External Action Service as an efficient and coherent service that will be the pride of the Union and the envy of the rest of the world. I will draw on the talent that already exists in the European Commission and the Council Secretariat, and welcome new colleagues from our 27 Member States to join as well. (…) »

Action in crisis areas

« (…) We are already playing an important role in the Southern Caucasus. We can act jointly with the US in the Middle East, building on the Quartet activity. In Africa, the Union is already involved in many actions. For example, the Atalanta operation is perceived as a success story on which we can build a more comprehensive policy. The Afghan conflict has to be solved and the Union is committed, both with its military force but also by training police and building health and agricultural infrastructure. »

Strategic partners

« I will seek to reinforce our strong cooperation with strategic partners such as the United States, China, Russia, India, Brazil and Japan. (…) »

Specific legislative and non-legislative initiatives?

A complete package on the future diplomatic service

« I would prepare detailed proposals for the establishment of the European External Action Service (EEAS), so that the Council can take a decision by the end of April (NB: the date set by the European Council). (…) I intend to produce a package that will include not only a draft Decision on the establishment of the EEAS but also the required amendments to the Financial Regulation and the Staff Regulations, as well as a draft amending budget for 2010, including amendments related to the setting up of the EEAS »

« I would involve the European Parliament closely in this process, including in the course of the preparation of the proposals and look forward to consultation with the Parliament on the draft decision. » NB: Parliament will not be part of the Steering Committee of the External Action Service.

Financial outlook, of course

« As a Vice-President of the Commission, I will contribute to the preparation of the new Financial Framework. As part of this exercise, I will draw the lessons from the recent mid-term review of the financing instruments for external relations, as the current instruments expire in 2013. » NB: let's also bet that the British commissioner will not only be interested in foreign policy instruments, but also in the CAP, cohesion policy, as well as the famous “rebate”. Everyone remembers the heated discussions during the negotiation of the 2007-2013 financial perspectives, under the presidency of Tony Blair, of whom C. Ashton was a minister.

Crisis prevention

« I also want to strengthen the early warning and crisis prevention capacities of the European Union by drawing on the expertise of NGOs, and use all the instruments available to strengthen the commitment of the European Union in countering chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear proliferation. » NB: Catherine Ashton indicated her intention, to some MEPs, to discuss a lot with Dan Smith, current secretary general of International Alert (an organization which works on “peacebuilding” issues) who was her boss at the CND, the organization that campaigned for disarmament “when I was 21,” she said.

Revision of foreign policy instruments

« I intend to launch a review of external policy and of external action instruments in key areas. I intend to use such review to identify additional specific legislative and non-legislative initiatives which will be required for the Union to achieve its objectives. »

Download the full text of the responses

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

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).