Friday

20th Jul 2018

Belgian minister publicly attacks EU foreign relations chief

  • Vancekere: 'Belgium will search for partners in other countries' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Characterised by "silence" on important foreign policy issues, with little long-term strategy and poor management of her agenda - Belgium's foreign minister has painted a damning picture of EU high representative Catherine Ashton.

British, centre-left and female, Ashton's surprise appointment to the EU's top foreign policy post in late 2009 has on many occasions been characterised as an unattractive European stitch-up, but Steven Vanackere's criticism of the EU foreign relations chief on Wednesday (4 May) is the first dressing down handed out by a senior official in public.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

While French President Nicolas Sarkozy is known to be among those who have behind closed doors criticised the former EU trade commissioner's grasp of foreign policy, Vanackere and the recent Belgian EU presidency had up till now studiously supported Ashton as the Union's voice in the area.

But in an interview with Belgian daily Le Soir, the former Ashton ally said she has failed over the past year to get the bloc of 27 member states speaking with one voice, a goal the highly-paid EU official set herself at the outset.

"When I speak of impatience, I think chiefly about the Union's capacity to speak with one voice," said Vanackere, describing the recent turmoil in Arab states as the "great test".

"In the absence of a central player that reacts, makes analyses and conclusions quickly, it is the Germans today, the French tomorrow or the English who partially take up this role ... The result is centrifugal, not centripetal."

"How can one resolve this problem? The Belgian diplomatic service will continue to push Ashton and her [external action] service towards strong positions. Failing that, if there is silence and this silence is 'occupied' by France, Germany etc., Belgium will search for partners in other countries."

Vanackere acknowledged that there was a tussle for power between different EU institutions at the moment, and that it is impossible for Ashton to be in all places at once.

However, this only magnified the need to correctly assess the Union's top priorities, he said, as well as to adopt a well-thought-out medium and long-term analytical approach.

"One must make choices, concentrate on the key issues, avoid getting lost in the details, manage one's agenda. That's what [European Council President] Herman Van Rompuy does," Vanackere said in praise of his compatriot.

Both are Christian Democrats from the northern Flemish region of Belgium.

"We can accept that some react faster than Ashton, but with the condition that she can prove that she is working for the medium-term and long-term on very important issues like energy, for example. But I have not seen this either."

The minister, whose monthly meetings with other EU foreign ministers are now chaired by Ashton under the EU's Lisbon Treaty, said the high representative's analysis had failed to bring any new insights to the table.

"During the Belgian Presidency, there was a debate about our relationship with strategic partners. I found the analysis prepared by the staff of Ashton rather disappointing. It was an inventory of what people who watch the world already know: China is important, emerging markets, be careful ..."

A spokesperson for Ashton refuted the allegations, saying the high representative had picked well-defined foreign policy priorities.

"On the Arab Spring, it's very clear where we are going, in the short, medium and long term," Michael Mann told this website. "Ashton has been at the forefront of placing sanctions against states such as Libya, and at the forefront of long-term post-Gaddafi political decision-making."

He also defending Ashton's ability to manage her busy schedule: "I don't think the comparison with Van Rompuy's agenda is valid as they both do completely different jobs."

"Just this week she had a major success in New York securing EU representation, yesterday she attended a commission meeting in Brussels on the EU's future budget, and today she will attend a meeting of the 'contact group' on Libya in Rome."

EU and Japan wave light in Trump's 'darkness'

EU leaders and Japanese prime minister signed a series of agreements, including the EU's biggest trade deal ever, designed as an answer to the disruption of the world order by the US president.

Opinion

EU must create safe, legal pathways to Europe

As the rapporteur for the European Parliament on an EU regulation on resettlement, my colleagues and I have outlined an effective plan based on solidarity and humanitarian principles.

News in Brief

  1. Trump threatens EU over Google fine
  2. Spain withdraws arrest warrant for Catalan separatists
  3. EU readies counter-measures on possible US car tariffs
  4. EU Commission launches probe into Hungary's 'Stop Soros' law
  5. EU warns Turkey on anti-terror bill
  6. Report: EU secretly scorns UK's Brexit paper
  7. Hungary: UN treaty could 'inspire millions' of migrants
  8. Nato reacts after Trump disparages Montenegro

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us