Catherine Ashton was born at Upholland
, Lancashire, on 20 March 1956.
She comes from a working-class family, with a background in coal mining.
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.
In 2005 she was voted "Minister of the Year" by The House Magazine
and "Peer of the Year" by Channel 4
. 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
On 3 October 2008, Ashton was nominated by the UK to replace Peter Mandelson
as the European Commissioner for Trade.
Because European Commissioners may not engage in any other occupation during their term of office, whether gainful or not,
she used the procedural device previously adopted in 1984 by Lord Cockfield
and took a leave of absence from the House of Lords on 14 October 2008,
retaining her peerage but not her seat.
During her term, Ashton represented the EU in negotiations related to a long-running dispute over beef
with the United States (May 2009),
led the EU delegation in an agreement with South Korea that removed virtually all tariffs between the two economies (October 2009)
and represented the EU in ending a long-running dispute over banana imports, principally involving Latin America and the EU.
Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Ashton's relative obscurity prior to her appointment prompted comment in the media. The Guardian
newspaper reported that her appointment as High Representative had received a "cautious welcome... from international relations experts". The Economist
described her as being a virtual unknown with paltry political experience, having no foreign-policy background and never having been elected to anything. The magazine credited her, however, with piloting the Lisbon Treaty through the House of Lords, handling the European Commission's Trade Portfolio without disagreement with her colleagues, and being suited to consensus-building.
By contrast, former Home Secretary Charles Clarke
said: "I have seen Cathy in action. I have great respect for her. She is excellent at building good relations with people and a good negotiator". Shami Chakrabarti
, the director of Liberty
, a human-rights pressure group
, said: "people underestimate Cathy at their peril. She is not a great big bruiser. She is a persuader and a charmer. That is the secret of her success."
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.
She took office on 1 December 2009 for a five-year-term.
Notable events of her term as High Representative
Notable events of her term 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 was to 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.
- 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).
- Helping to reach a deal between Serbia and Kosovo that normalised their ties (April 2013).
- Successfully negotiating with the Egyptian Army a visit to the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, in their custody. She reported that he was in good health and was well treated and aware of current affairs. (July 2013.)
- 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 programme (November 2013).
- Her visit to Kyiv during Ukraine's Euromaidan protests.
In April 2013, after two years of negotiations, the governments of Serbia
reached agreement to normalise their relations. Although Serbia did not formally recognise 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".
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 Ashton and her fellow negotiators Dacic and Thaci for the Nobel Peace Prize.
A similar nomination came from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament
After the November 2013 negotiation of an interim agreement with Iran over its nuclear programme, 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".
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
with Ashton, Munich, 1 February 2014
In December 2013 Ashton visited Kyiv. She said she was impressed by the "determination of Ukrainians demonstrating for the European perspective of their country" and observed "with sadness that police used force to remove peaceful people from the center of Kyiv... Dialogue with political forces and society and the use of arguments is always better than the argument of force".
Subsequently, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin
criticised Ashton's categorisation of the anti-government protests in Kyiv
as peaceful in nature, pointing to the death of a number of police officers.
At the beginning of March a recording of a conversation between Ashton and the Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet
was released. In the call, Paet said he had been told by a woman doctor named Olga that snipers responsible for killing police and civilians in Kyiv last month were protest movement provocateurs rather than supporters of then-president Viktor Yanukovych. Ashton responds: "I didn't know … Gosh." "So there is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition", Paet says. Ashton replies: "I think we do want to investigate. I didn't pick that up, that's interesting. Gosh", she says. The Estonian foreign ministry confirmed the accuracy of the leak but clarified that "Foreign Minister Paet was giving an overview of what he had heard in Kyiv and expressed concern over the situation on the ground. We reject the claim that Paet was giving an assessment of the opposition's involvement in the violence."
The woman doctor, Dr Olga Bogomolets, said in an interview reported by Paul Waldie of The Globe and Mail
that, in her conversation with the Estonian minister, "she did not indicate that protesters used snipers. She simply relayed to the Estonian minister what she saw that day – protesters shot in the head and heart. 'What I saw were people who were killed by snipers and only on [protesters'] side.'"
On 28 March 2014 Ashton issued a news release condemning violence by members of the Ukrainian nationalist political party Right Sector
, stating, "I strongly condemn the pressure by activists of the Right Sector who have surrounded the building of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. Such an intimidation of the parliament is against ... democratic principles and [the] rule of law. I call on the Right Sector and other parties in Ukraine to refrain from the use or threat of violence. They need to hand over any unauthorised arms to the authorities immediately."
President Putin signed the new treason law on 12 November 2012. Ashton expressed concern at the new law "potentially penalizing contacts with foreign nationals with up to 20 years in prison" and reducing "the burden of proof for charges of treason and espionage". The United Nations Committee Against Torture
stated that the new law could prohibit sharing information on the human rights situation in Russia with the United Nations human rights organs. According to Ashton, the March 2013 inspection wave in Russia seemed aimed at "undermining civil society activities".
Ashton condemned the "disproportionate" use of force by Egyptian
security forces on August 14, 2013, when the security forces killed over 1000 people during the violent dispersal
of mass anti-government sit-ins at Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya
and al-Nahda squares.
Ashton (far right) with the rest of the Quartet on the Middle East (2010)
Early phase as EU High Representative
Ashton 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.
Her 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".
In February 2010, Ashton was criticised within the EU community for not visiting Haiti
in the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake
A number of defence ministers reportedly also complained that she had not attended a European Defence Summit in Majorca.
More broadly, senior officials within her team were said to complain that she spoke only in "generalities".
A rumour that she switched off her phone after 8 pm every day was greeted by Ashton with ridicule.
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.
In March 2012, Ashton was criticised by Israeli politicians for comparing the shooting of Jewish children in Toulouse
with the situation in Gaza.
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 in different parts of the world – we remember young people and children who lose their lives."
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.
In counterpoint to earlier criticism of Ashton for not travelling 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.
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."
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.
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 aeroplane: something taken for granted by U.S. Secretaries of State.
Later phase as EU High Representative
The tone of public comment on Ashton's performance in office was subsequently to be influenced especially by her contributions to negotiations over Kosovo and Iran. 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.
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
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.
In July 2014, as discussions took place on the selection of Ashton's successor, Paul Taylor of Reuters
wrote in The New York Times
, as part of a larger critique of the political nature of appointments to the European Commission:
While Ms. Ashton had some successes, brokering a first accord between Serbia and Kosovo and leading negotiations for an interim nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, critics say she has too often been missing in action closer to home.
Reflecting on her record, in July 2014, Adam Boulton in the UK's Sunday Times concluded:
As the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Catherine Ashton still bestrides the international stage four years after Gordon Brown, the man who gave her the job, was expelled from the corridors of power. She was a surprise nominee to everyone including herself, and few would have expected then that her successor as Britain's commissioner would struggle to match Baroness Ashton in calibre and clout.
Catherine Ashton is a member of the Global Leadership Foundation
, an organisation that works to support democratic leadership, prevent and resolve conflict through mediation and promote good governance in the form of democratic institutions, open markets, human rights and the rule of law. It does so by making available, discreetly and in confidence, the experience of former leaders to today's national leaders. It is a not-for-profit organisation composed of former heads of government, senior governmental and international organisation officials who work closely with heads of government on governance-related issues of concern to them.
Honours and awards
- ^ jointly with Department of Work and Pensions from June 2003
- ^ Life peerage, thegazette.co.uk. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
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- ^ "Baroness Ashton to become Chancellor of the University of Warwick". Warwick Insite. University of Warwick. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
- ^ EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton EU Commission (official website) Archived 18 January 2010 at WebCite
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- ^ Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, House of Common Debates volume 69 column 493W (12 December 1984) HANSARD
- ^ Department of the Official Report (Hansard), House of Lords, Westminster. "Lords Hansard text for 14 October 2008 (pt 13)". Parliament of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 8 January 2011.
- ^ "European Parliament Focus briefing "Ashton backs Doha rescue in Q&A with MEPs"". European Parliament. 21 October 2008. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
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- ^ Catherine Ashton: 'As trade commissioner she had a good reputation': British peer receives cautious welcome as EU foreign minister from international relations experts – The Guardian, Friday 20 November 2009.
- ^ page12 The Economist, 28 November–4 December 2009.
- ^ See, for example, "Four Key Principles for a Conservative British Foreign Policy", Web Memo 2911, The Heritage Foundation, 21 May 2010. Retrieved 12/1/13.
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- ^ Ashton named GCMG Archived 31 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Government of the United Kingdom; accessdate=20 March 2015
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- ^ Patrick Kingsley. "Egypt's deposed president Morsi is safe and well, confirms EU's top diplomat Egyptian army agreed to Mohamed Morsi's meeting with Lady Ashton, but authorities made sure his location was not disclosed", The Guardian, 30 July 2013.
- ^ Catherine Ashton's report of her visit to Mr. Morsi: VIDEO. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- ^ "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. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- ^ Laurence Norman; Jay Solomon (9 November 2013). "Iran Nuclear Talks End Without Deal". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 6 April 2015. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- ^ a b Lady Ashton visits Kiev, Europa (web portal). Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- ^ Morris, Chris. "EU's Ashton sees "brave" Kosovo deal as Breakthrough", BBC.co.uk, 24 April 2013. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- ^ Norman, Laurence (24 December 2013). "A Nobel Peace Prize for Catherine Ashton in 2014?" – via www.wsj.com.
- ^ ""Open letter for the Nobel Peace Prize nomination," by S&D Group president, Hannes Swoboda". Socialists & Democrats.
- ^ Spiegeleisen, Peter. "Ashton no longer the diplomatic dilettante". Financial Times, 27 November 2013.
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- ^ "Ukraine bugged call", 5 March 2014. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- ^ Waldie, Paul. "Prominent Ukrainian Doctor is no ordinary revolutionary", The Globe and Mail, 8 March 2014. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- ^ Statement by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton on recent events around the Parliament of Ukraine, Europa (web portal). Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- ^ "Laws of Attrition: Crackdown on Russia's Civil Society after Putin's Return to the Presidency", Human Rights Watch pdf report, 24 April 2013. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- ^ "U.S. condemns killings of Egypt protesters, Turkey wants U.N. action". Reuters. 14 August 2013.
- ^ "All According to Plan". Human Rights Watch. 12 August 2014.
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- ^ a b c Vanessa Mock, "French 'sexism' blamed for attacks on Baroness Ashton", The Independent. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- ^ Charter, David & Graham Keeley Baroness Ashton under fire for missing European defence summit, The Times, 26 February 2010.
- ^ 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 ... 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."
- ^ Bruno Waterfield, "Baroness Ashton bottom of class as she 'fails' first year in office", The Daily Telegraph, 9 February 2011.
- ^ Buck, Tobias (2012). "Ashton slammed for Toulouse-Gaza link". Retrieved 20 March 2012.
- ^ Shefler, Gil (2012). "EU's Ashton compares Toulouse shooting to Gaza situation (Paywall)". Retrieved 20 March 2012.
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- ^ Waterfield, Bruno (20 March 2012). "Toulouse school shootings: Israel demands Baroness Ashton resign after she compares incident to Gaza". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 20 March 2012.
- ^ "Netanyahu slams Ashton for 'unthinkable' comparison of deaths in Toulouse and Gaza". The Times of Israel. 20 March 2012.
- ^ "EU corrects Ashton speech transcript after Israeli anger". YnetNews. Archived from the original on 22 August 2012. Retrieved 15 April 2012.
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