Stanley's blog

Ashton under attack

Further to the post of 25 January, Baroness Ashton is still under attack for not going to Haiti, notwithstanding that the UN had requested that dignataries do not visit the island, so as not to disrupt the emergency aid activities. She stated then that Development & Humanitarian Aid Commissioner, Karel De Gucht, would go when appropriate.

Apparently overlooking this, the Daily Telegraph of 16 February wrote that her argument that “disaster tourism” would detract from vital humanitarian efforts was left looking silly when De Gucht, was dispatched to Haiti.

The criticism seems to be led by France, supported by Spain. Libération wrote: “It smacks of amateurism, even incompetence.” the paper wrote. France’s Europe Minister Pierre Lellouche deplored the “current void” left by Ashton. “The world does not wait for us,” he told French reporters.

Another French media article apparently alleged that Lady Ashton “switches off her phone after 8pm” and makes off to London every weekend to visit her husband and school-going child, instead of travelling the globe. While some do criticize her for spending most weekends in London and being too close to Whitehall, such complaints are hardly appropriate coming from France.

Maybe the High Representative being a woman and British and not a French speaker has some relevance.
Media reports and some official comments focus on why she is not travelling sufficiently. It is overlooked that she is only three months into a brand new job. She must set up and run a new European foreign office and huge diplomatic corps, the External Action Service, which will take time to put in place. She doesn’t therefore yet have a ‘ministry’.

The Vice-President’s job is not fly around the world seeking photo-ops but to help to forge a common foreign & security policy between 27 sets of national egos. And there are enough problems in doing this without such irresponsible criticism. Talk such as: “She very badly and urgently needs a success story or she will lose this image war,” is wide of the mark.

Finally, while we were expect the EU to be given a more recognisable public profile, the same Member States who now criticize Lady Ashton, helped apppoint a low-key individual with little relevant experience. It hardly behoves them to criticize her low-key approach.

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  1. You’re correct in defining the French attitude towards Lady Ashton: she’s a woman, British, non-French speaker. Having said that, you can’t blame the journalists for her election. That was the work of the national leaders themselves, bargaining in secret. “Sources” say they got what they wanted …. After all, they don’t want to lose their own chance of starring on the world stage.

    The EU is not a country but a freely entered association of nation states. These states recognise the weakness of having no single voice for the EU – but their leaders are unwilling to vote for such.

    The High Representative scenario is doubled by the Euro management scenario (Greece et al). It’s said that the EU only really moves radically after a crisis. Neither the “single voice” issue nor the Euro crisis will be big enough in my opinion.

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