Wednesday

27th Mar 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."

EU on path towards whistleblower protection

EU lawmakers and member states have struck a political deal on the first-ever EU-wide directive on whistleblower protection - following years of big tax-evasion revelations and the laundering of dirty money in European banks.

Germany's CDU lukewarm on Macron's EU vision

Germany's anointed new leader has echoed France in calling for EU reform to combat populism - but with a stronger role for national governments and with little prospect of sharing German wealth.

Exclusive

Sefcovic campaign videos feature fellow commissioners

Maros Sefcovic, commission vice-president in charge of Energy Union, is running to be president of Slovakia. Now two of his fellow EU commissioners have endorsed him - raising questions about their independence.

EU college defends Saudi-style visits, attacks 'sloppy' media

College of Europe rector Jorg Monar says the surplus money made from setting up closed-door meetings between the Saudi government and EU officials, including MEPs, "would barely cover the replacement costs of a beamer in a College seminar room."

News in Brief

  1. EU tables plan for joint approach to 5G security
  2. MEPs agree to scrap summer time clock changes by 2021
  3. European Parliament votes on reform of copyright
  4. New French-German parliament meets for first time
  5. EU parliament reduces polling ahead of elections
  6. UK parliament votes to take control of Brexit process
  7. EU publishes no-deal Brexit contingency plans
  8. EU urges Israel and Gaza to re-establish calm

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. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. EU lawmakers pass contentious copyright law
  2. France takes Chinese billions despite EU concerns
  3. Europe before the elections - heading back to the past?
  4. Romania presidency shatters EU line on Jerusalem
  5. The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted
  6. Russia and money laundering in Europe
  7. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  8. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us