Monday

27th May 2019

Ashton names EU foreign-service priorities at low-key launch event

  • Ashton showed pictures of herself with children in earthquake-struck Haiti in a 'touching' and 'surprising' speech (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Relations with the US and China, climate change, poverty eradication, crisis management and counter-terrorism are to be the top priorities of the EU's new diplomatic corps, EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton told her stable of 136 ambassadors at a behind-closed-doors meeting in Brussels on Wednesday (1 December).

The speech, given at a regular annual gathering of EU envoys in the European Commission headquarters, doubled as a low-key launch ceremony for the European External Action Service (EEAS), which formally began life the same day.

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

A source familiar with the discussions at the event told EUobsever: "She surprised everyone with a very touching presentation about her personal journey over the past 10 months. She spoke without notes and she showed pictures of herself embracing a child in Haiti, of rural poverty in China."

"She went straight to the key issues: How we can ensure that the EU 28 [the 27 member states and the EEAS] can send out one message; the challenges we face from climate change; improving the relationship with the US, which is for her clearly the EU's most important relationship; then strategic partners, especially China, how important it is to try to shape one EU agenda on China."

"There was also a wake up call on resources - that we have to do more with less. That we live in extraordinary times and the EEAS cannot be a stranger to financial difficulties."

The contact said that there was no official mention of the WikiLeaks affair but the issue did come up in the Ashton question-and-answer session: "She noted that the cables show how the US is actually working in partnership with other countries, how they prove the conspiracy theorists wrong."

Another source who was present at the event said: "Gender balance came up. Given that it was a room dominated by men, they were happy that Cathy was starting to improve things in this area."

The sessions, which began on Wednesday and will last until 5pm Brussels time on Friday, also saw speeches by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, European Parliment head Jerzy Buzek and two of Ms Ashton's top managers - French EEAS secretary general Pierre Vimont and Irish EEAS administration chief David O'Sullivan. EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy is to speak on Friday, along with Ms Ashton's two deputy secretary generals, Helga Schmid and Maciej Popowski. Commissioners Kristalina Georgieva (aid), Karl de Gucht (trade) and Stefan Fuele (enlargement) are also in the line-up.

"It's a pity they did not invite the press. It's a humble launch for the EEAS, maybe too humble," an EU diplomat said.

Mr Barroso' speech urged the ambassadors to be "more assertive" in "co-shaping" the global agenda. Mr Buzek stressed the importance of EU diplomats' democratic "accountability" and the value of EU parliament committee hearings for new EEAS appointees. Mr Vimont spoke of the need to merge the different "cultures" of member states, the European Council and the commission inside the service. Mr O'Sullivan's catchphrase was that the EEAS will stamp the union's "footprint" on the world.

"There is a very exciting atmosphere. We feel like we are the builders of the new foreign service of the EU. But we have to manage expectations of what can be achieved," the diplomat added.

In a related development, Ms Ashton's office on Thursday named 57-year-old Italian crisis management specialist Agostino Miozzo as her right-hand-man in charge of civilian and military crisis-response planning. The post reports directly to Ms Ashton and stands above the still-to-be-named head of the EU's intelligence-sharing bureau, the Joint Situation Centre.

Dr Miozzi has since 2002 headed up the voluntary and international relations office in the Italian Civil Protection Department and impressed Ms Ashton when the two met in earthquake-struck Haiti earlier this year.

Ms Ashton on Thursday also appointed British EU official Robert Cooper, a senior foreign policy advisor to her predecessor, Javier Solana, and a specialist on Iran and the Western Balkans, to be an EEAS "counsellor."

Analysis

Sibiu: EU leaders prepare post-Brexit show of unity

With the European elections just three weeks away, the EU-27 will try to set the agenda for the next years for the EU institutions. But with persisting divisions on key issues, unity will be an achievement in itself.

Exclusive

Ombudsman backs EUobserver on MEP expenses

The European Parliament should have granted access to documents on a decision about how transparent MEPs should be in future with their office expenses, says EU Ombudsman.

EU want Facebook pan-EU advert fix for May elections

EU institutions want Facebook to relax its rules, to allow pan-European political groups to carry out EU-wide campaigns. Facebook has yet to implement the demands - posing questions on the extent to which Europe relies on the US tech firm.

News in Brief

  1. Timmermans calls for 'progressive alliance'
  2. Catalonia's Puigdemont wins MEP seat
  3. Weber opens door to alliance with greens and liberals
  4. Tsipras calls snap Greek election after EP defeat
  5. Polish ruling PiS takes lion's share of EU vote
  6. Romanian voters punish ruling PSD party
  7. First official EP projection: EPP remain top, Greens fourth
  8. UK forecast puts Brexit Party on top, with 24 seats

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Latest News

  1. Populists' EU breakthrough fails, greens and liberals gain
  2. Jubilant Greens in party mood after first EP projection
  3. 2019 European election results
  4. Thunberg: We can still fix climate, but must start today
  5. Turnout up in Slovakia, with pro-EU liberals scoring high
  6. Belgium votes in hybrid EU-national election
  7. Irish greens take Dublin in second EU exit poll
  8. EU election results to trigger top jobs scramble This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us