Germany plays down Ashton criticism
German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble's criticism of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is being "blown out of proportion", his spokesman has said.
"These were some comments made in the margins of an event to celebrate German Constitution Day in Karlsruhe. They definitely do not represent a co-ordinated attack [on Ashton] by the German government - they have been blown out of proportion," Schauble's spokesman, Martin Kotthaus, told EUobserver on Sunday (29 May).
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"The criticism was as much about [EU] Council structures as anything else," he noted, referring to problems in consensus-building among the 27 EU member countries.
Kotthaus, who until recently was the spokesman for the German mission to the EU, added: "During my time there, the German foreign ministry was very supportive of the high representative."
For their part, Ashton's staff consider German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle to be one of her principal allies.
Schauble, speaking at the Karlsruhe event on 23 May as part of general musings on the state of the European Union, said the bloc's response to what he called the "Arabellion" has been inadequate.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), a leading German daily, cited him as saying that the EU "did not speak with one voice" and that Ashton "does not have the power to portray Europe as an actor."
Schauble is considered in Germany to be the top thinker on EU affairs in Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party despite his domestic portfolio. In 1994, he co-wrote an influential paper with former German president Karl Lamers saying the EU should become a quasi-federal structure.
The FAZ quotes, originally published in the paper's print edition only, were highlighted in British newspapers The Times and the Daily Mail over the weekend.
The Times, which also quoted Ashton-critical remarks by German centre-right MEP Elmar Brok, said Schauble has opened "a new flank of criticism after attacks about her lack of dynamism by French diplomats." It speculated that Ashton might be forced to quit mid-mandate.
The mass-circulation Daily Mail said Ashton is "facing the axe" after "being given the warning by leading German politicians."