The European Union’s Foreign Policy Struggles

Baroness Catherine Ashton

Baroness Catherine Ashton, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The European Union seems to be experiencing another round of growing pains. According to a report in Charlemagne’s Notebook, key European officials are turning on Catherine Ashton, the EU’s top foreign policy official. Ashton was the surprise pick for the position last November, becoming the EU’s first full-time official in that position. At the time, many believed that the pick was a compromise between various camps in the EU, particularly between Britain, which had been pushing for Tony Blair to fill the post, and Germany and France, who wanted someone with more “pro-Union” credentials. 

Ashton’s latest problems arose as a result of her response to the situation in Haiti. After the European Union committed €400 million in aid following the earthquake, Ashton was asked if she would be visiting Haiti personally. After indicated she would not visit the island because the United Nations had requested dignitaries to refrain from making such visits, which tend to disrupt the relief effort. But, a few days later, as Tony Barber reports on the Financial Times Brussels Blog, Michel Barnier, France’s nominee to be the next European Commissioner for internal market, issued a damning statement, noting that after the 2004 Asian tsunami, he visited the region as French foreign minister. As Barber observes,

What this episode reveals is that Ashton really has her work cut out to win the respect of some of her European peers.  They know perfectly well that she was appointed EU foreign policy high representative almost by accident last November and that she lacks experience in the field.  Barnier is not the only one sneering at her or trying to pull attention away from her…To non-European outsiders, this looks chaotic and amateurish.  British anti-Europeans are having a field day.  Someone has to restore order fast…Otherwise the EU’s image on the world stage, which took a hammering at December’s Copenhagen UN climate change conference, will slip even further.

The Lisbon Treaty was intended to streamline decision-making within the European Union by, among other things, institutionalizing key leadership positions. It appears, however, that the Union’s political struggles continue.


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