Tuesday

13th Nov 2018

Little-known British peer emerges as top candidate for EU foreign minister

  • Ms Ashton (r) and British foreign minister David Miliband shake hands (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU leaders from the centre-left political family have named Baroness Catherine Ashton, Britain's EU commissioner for trade, as their preferred candidate for the new EU foreign minister post.

Ms Ashton's name was agreed at a meeting of left-leaning prime ministers, held at the Austrian mission to the EU in Brussels, shortly before the opening of a summit designed to appoint the foreign relations post and the related job of EU president.

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.

... or join as a group

"The eight socialist heads of government met in Brussels and unanimously decided to support Catherine Ashton for the post of high representative," an official present at the meeting told press.

The move makes Ms Ashton a strong contender due to an informal agreement that the centre-left will take the foreign minister job, leaving the president role to the centre-right.

Ms Ashton's nationality and gender also stand in her favour: The UK, as one of the largest EU foreign policy players, can bring its weight to the new post. Meanwhile, female politicians from around Europe have in past days complained that all the top jobs should not be filled by men.

The 27 EU leaders at 6pm Brussels time sat down to an early dinner to try and pin down the two candidates who will represent Europe around the world after the Lisbon Treaty comes into force in December.

If Ms Ashton gets the post, it will leave the field clear for centre-right Belgian prime minister, Herman Van Rompuy, to become EU president.

Mr Van Rompuy has emerged as the preferred candidate of Germany and several smaller EU states in recent days, with Belgium already beginning to prepare itself for the loss of its leader.

Belgian MPs in a plenary session on Thursday quizzed Mr Van Rompuy about the Lisbon Treaty procedure and the question of his succession. "He said that if he leaves, it [the selection of his replacement] would be in the hands of others," Mr Van Rompuy's spokesman, Dirk De Backer told EUobserver.

The EU president is to be the nominal head of the EU with a small staff of 20 or so advisers and a modest budget of €6 million a year. But the new foreign minister will head a large institution with thousands of staff, delegations around the world and responsibility for EU military and police operations.

A Van Rompuy-Ashton ticket would not be welcomed by all however, with Mr Van Rompuy little known outside Brussels and the Baroness, an economist by background, having no personal experience of foreign affairs.

A "minimalist solution" would be a "historic missed opportunity" for the EU to use the Lisbon Treaty to "emerge as a new force on the global stage," Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt wrote in his blog earlier on Thursday.

The EU leaders' search for consensus at their behind-closed-doors dinner in the EU capital may yet throw up surprises, however.

French diplomats believe the Ashton decision is a gambit designed to get the UK to put its more heavyweight foreign minister, David Miliband, back in the race. And the Swedish EU presidency has already arranged a lunch for the 27 heads of government on Friday in anticipation of difficult discussions.

"They should lock them in the room and give them only bread and water until they choose, like when they select a pope," a Czech diplomat said.

Exclusive

EU commission redacted too much in 'WiFi4EU' papers

Secretariat-general of the European Commission decides that information redacted by directorate-general Communications Networks, Content and Technology should have been made public.

Mogherini's tech experts talk more freely in secret

The EU's foreign service says there are no "records" of the Global Tech Panel meetings, but acknowledged foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini writes summary letters. Five MEPs worried about killer robots suggest the panel's composition is skewed.

News in Brief

  1. Draft Brexit deal on London cabinet agenda on Wednesday
  2. EU proposes no visa for UK citizens after Brexit
  3. EU parliament 'deeply concerned' on Romania judiciary
  4. Macedonia's ex-PM flees to Hungary, seeks asylum
  5. Cyprus opens first new border crossings in eight years
  6. Putin's Austrian dance partner cancels Moscow visit
  7. Political deadlock over Sweden Democrat influence
  8. Court: Catalan referendum organisers must repay costs

Opinion

Dodgy regime lobbying is below the EU's radar

In Brussels, PR professionals and lobbying consultants are working for some of the world's most autocratic regimes. And we have no way of knowing for sure who they are, how much they are paid, or what they are up to.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Merkel calls for 'real, true' EU army
  2. Italy defiant on budget on eve of EU deadline
  3. EU action on Hungary and Poland drowns in procedure
  4. EU unable to fully trace €1bn spent on refugees in Turkey
  5. Romanian leaders trade jibes over upcoming EU presidency
  6. EU warns Romania not to abuse GDPR against press
  7. EU 'Magnitsky Act' must bear its proper name
  8. Fear of nationalist surge marks European memorials

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us