Sunday

16th May 2021

Ashton to leave EU foreign policy job next year

  • Ashton in Kazakhstan: 'There's a lot of travel ... It is quite exhausting' (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has said she will step down next year, noting that she is tired of all the travel.

Speaking at a debate in Brussels on Saturday (16 March) organised by the German Marshall Fund, a think tank, she said: "There's no possibility of having a second term and it [the post] needs to go to someone else next … You lay the foundations, but there are people who can do things with this that probably I couldn't do. So, it would be good to hand it over."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

She added that the job is physically taxing.

"It's quite hard and there's a lot of travel and a lot of sitting on planes. My dear friend Hilary Clinton [the US ex-secretary of state] and I talked about this a few times. It is exhausting at times," she said.

Ashton's mandate is due to end on 1 December 2014.

It is unclear what she meant by "no possibility" of staying on, as there is nothing in the EU treaty which says she could not be reappointed.

There is speculation that her successor could be Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen. But he says he has no interest in it.

Past candidates for the role, such as Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, could also come back into the race.

But one EU diplomat noted that the new foreign policy chief will be chosen as part of a "package" of EU top jobs designed to please big member states and political groups, not on personal merit.

The contact added that with so much time to go before December 2014, it would be "inadvisable" for any candidate to come out now.

Ashton said her main legacy will be the creation of the European External Action Service as an institution.

She said she did it at a tricky time, referring to the EU financial crisis and to the Arab Spring, and that it was hard to combine institution-building with diplomacy.

"I've often described it as trying to fly a plane when you are building the wings at the same time," she noted.

Bashed in the past on a range of issues - poor management skills, chaotic planning of foreign ministers' meetings, lack of courage and charisma - one EU diplomat told EUobserver that her early announcement on stepping down is itself a mistake.

"I think it weakens her. I think it was unnecessary," the contact noted.

But for her part, Ashton said she has grown a thick skin.

"It's not about the criticism. I've had enough of that. I'm not worried about that anymore," she noted.

She acknowledged there are limitations to how much EU countries really want to co-operate on foreign policy, especially in military matters.

"These are national [military] services and the decision to deploy and put people in harm's way are national sovereign decisions," she said.

But she denied reports that the European Commission has tried to undermine her work in order to defend its turf.

"He [commission head Jose Manuel Barroso] has always been hugely supportive," she said.

"Why would he be jealous? Blimey. No. I don't think he's jealous at all. I think he really wants this to succeed," she added.

Catalan MEPs lose immunity, slam 'political persecution'

Catalan separatist MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí lost their parliamentary immunity - a result they have hailed as a "political victory" for bringing the conflict between Catalonia and Spain closer to the heart of Europe.

News in Brief

  1. No EUobserver newsletter on Friday 14 May
  2. Germany stops Facebook gathering WhatsApp data
  3. Italy rebuts reports of EU deal with Libya
  4. MEPs demand EU states protect women's reproductive rights
  5. At least nine dead in Russia school shooting
  6. Bulgaria interim government appointed until July election
  7. German priests defy pope to bless same-sex couples
  8. New EU public prosecutor faults Slovenia

MEPs chide Portugal and Council in EU prosecutor dispute

The Belgian and Bulgarian prosecutors who were appointed had also not been the experts' first choice. Belgian prosecutor Jean-Michel Verelst has challenged the council's decision at the European Court of Justice.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU aims at 'zero pollution' in air, water and soil by 2050
  2. French police arrest Luxembourg former top spy
  3. Vaccine drives spur better-than-expected EU economic recovery
  4. Slovenia causing headaches for new EU anti-graft office
  5. 'No place to hide' in Gaza, as fighting escalates
  6. EU chases 90m AstraZeneca vaccines in fresh legal battle
  7. Fidesz MEP oversees FOI appeals on disgraced Fidesz MEP
  8. Belgium outlines summer Covid relaxation plans

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us