Humanitarian aidBlog AnalysisEEAS High Representative

Cathy, side face. Lady Ashton, tails

Catherine Ashton recovering her childhood memories, joining protesters in Kyiv Square (credit: EEAS)
Catherine Ashton recovering her childhood memories, joining protesters in Kyiv Square (credit: EEAS)

(BRUSSELS2) The EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, Catherine (Cathy) Ashton, is an ambivalent personality (like all political figures). And grasping it, in a nutshell, is difficult. Between those who have nothing but criticism and contempt for the High Representative of the EU and those who are all honey (sometimes they are the same ones a few days apart!), it is even more difficult to get an idea.

It may indeed be difficult to understand the Baronesses. B2 tried it regularly. And I must notice that when leafing through certain articles, published in the past, they retain (for the most part) their relevance even today. Their different nuances make it possible to reconstruct a faithful journey.

Files in which she engages (and succeeds), others which she abandons

To fully understand the “Ashton” personality, we must consider that she has always been more interested in the “foreign policy – ​​diplomacy” aspect of her portfolio than in the “security policy – ​​defense” aspect. On the first, it has notable levers and it has a certain taste. On others, it depends on the Member States. And it's not his cup of tea. We cannot deny its real European commitment. But he remains constrained by the British reality which is always more reluctant and more hostile to European integration. Cathy is torn between her two “nationalities”, which are growing further and further apart.

Diplomatic component: a successful engagement in certain areas

On the diplomatic front, Cathy has had some successes — the Balkans and l'Iran in particular, but also the opening of the Burma or Horn of Africa. Even if some might say that she only benefited from a combination of circumstances and the work of her predecessors, her stubbornness or her perseverance, her sense of negotiation, her smiles or...? his bad character, find their full effect there! His nationality (British) and his close link with the US State Department (Hillary Clinton then John Kerry) are even an advantage in this regard. Note that most of these areas of action correspond to the priorities announced from the start. Which demonstrates a certain loyalty to its commitments – and to… areas of British interest (a coincidence :-).

Small downside however, apart from the Horn of Africa, she has largely neglected the African continent, leaving it to the other commissioners for Development (A. Piebalgs) or Humanitarian Aid (K. Georgieva). But without expressly delegating this responsibility to them. Which complicates things.

The establishment of European Diplomatic Service (EEAS) — if it was not obvious -, is one of its successes and undoubtedly the most notable, even if it remains discreet. This instrument will be used for the future and should prove to be one of the best tools that Europe has created to ensure its external aura. Quite quickly, EU delegations found their role and proved their effectiveness, to the point that we can give them the term “embassies”.

Cathy Ashton's move to Kiev to join the Maidan protesters is a deliberately politically risky act. The government certainly ridiculed the European Union by using strong tactics just before, after saying that it wanted to dialogue. But this “victory” is only apparent and could be short-lived. The “battle” is not over. In any case, you certainly had to be there alongside the demonstrators. Let's bet, by treading the pavement of Maidan Square, Cathy surely rediscovered the accent of her youth as an activist... and was not displeased to give a little "fuck" to the other political leaders, by taking them short.

Crisis management component: absences, misunderstandings, mistakes = failure

On the “crisis management” side, it’s the other side of the story from Lady Ashton. Success is not there. From Haiti at the beginning to the Central African Republic today, absences follow one another without it being possible to say that they are involuntary acts.

Misunderstandings. The Baroness does not like to be surprised or constrained by events. Since crisis management must proceed through rapid instruments which escape it – such as humanitarian aid – or the military – which largely depend on Member States – it is disinterested in them. Not so much that she is hostile to it. But it's not"valuable“, recoverable, in the English and British sense of the term. What is the point of setting up a (European) security and defense policy if NATO already exists? said the High Representative, mezzo voice.

Some assignments have been successfully launched. But they are far from being a success. EUAVSEC South Sudan was closed discreetly, EUCAP Sahel Niger encountered major difficulties and is stagnating, EUCAP Nestor took almost 2 years to be put in place (after 3 years of reflection!). The post-mission in Iraq and Congo faces serious unknowns... The only mission launched which has had real success is EUTM Mali. But we cannot say that the High Representative has largely pushed this project forward.

Mistakes. The main problems that existed before 5 years have not really been resolved. The rigidities of the financial regulations have, for example, not been resolved. The Defense Ministers of the “28” reiterated this again in mid-November. None of the innovative provisions of the Lisbon Treaty (launch fund, solidarity clause, mutual assistance clause, vanguard group, enhanced cooperation or permanent structured cooperation, etc.) has received the beginning of a proposal, d a strong initiative. It could be argued that member states are dragging their feet. It is a fact ! But we cannot certify that they were really pushed against the wall. The attempt to set up a permanent European military headquarters a year ago ended in failure and meant for Lady Ashton that the military was not the key to her success (Read: No European military HQ: a personal failure for Cathy Ashton (Maj)).

Absences! It is therefore not surprising that the French intervention in Central African Republic was not the subject of a greeting from the High Representative who was content to welcome the resolution obtained at the United Nations. The same phenomenon occurred with the intervention in Mali (where it was only very timidly and belatedly that Lady Ashton welcomed the French intervention). However, this occurs according to European doxa: emergency on the ground, international consensus, request from local officials, partnership with a regional organization and authorization from the Security Council. We are not at all in the context of the intervention in Iraq in 2003 (which nevertheless had the support, reiterated again today, of the Baroness) nor even of Libya (where there was great reluctance on the African). Worse, Lady Ashton stopped all planning to send a battlegroup to reinforce the French troops to avoid putting the British (who did not want to go) in the position of vetoing. Read : Battlegroup for the Central African Republic? How Cathy said stop!

There are therefore two sides to the High Representative. And, according to his axiom, we can praise Lady Ashton or say worse than hang. Everyone has their own preferences! Being resolutely in favor of a certain Europe of Defense, we should therefore not be surprised to see sometimes negative articles on the High Representative. It's not his person that bothers us. On the contrary ! The “rare” times we had the opportunity to talk face to face, the impression was positive. It is the policy it pursues – contrary to the ambition set by the Treaties – which irritates us…

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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).