Baptism of fire for EU's foreign affairs supremo

Ashton fails to dispel doubts about experience during grilling by MEPs

A three-hour hearing yesterday that was Baroness Ashton's first chance to prove she is up to the job of becoming the EU's voice on the world stage ended in disappointment after she turned it into a game of evasion tactics.

Some of her interrogators muttered their disapproval as they drifted out of the confirmation hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels, where MEPs grilled the EU's new "foreign minister" on issues ranging from the Middle East peace process to human rights in Belarus.

"There's certainly no enthusiasm about her though we can probably find a way of working with her," Elmar Brok, a veteran German Christian Democrat and foreign policy expert said afterwards. "She clearly still has a lot of learning to do; there are many gaping holes that will have to be filled very quickly."

Her worst tormentors, mostly British Conservative MEPs, sought to stoke up controversy over her former role as treasurer of the UK Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the 1980s. "What was then part of a much bigger worldwide movement is no longer relevant now. I am not a member of CND now and have not been a member for over 28 or 29 years," she told Charles Tannock, who had asked whether in her function as "defence supremo" dealing with countries such as Iran, she now repudiated her earlier views.

Lady Ashton's deft display of ducking and diving will do little to calm fears over her inexperience, which have been audible ever since European leaders picked her as their surprise choice as EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in November.

The post, created by the Lisbon Treaty, will place Lady Ashton in command of a global diplomatic staff and give her many new instruments and a vast budget to carve out the EU's relationship with Washington, Moscow, Beijing and other world capitals. But instead of setting out her vision for a more muscular European approach to foreign affairs, she gave broad ranging answers, often admitting to her lack of knowledge and pointing out that she was "just five weeks into the job".

Yet it was not all bad. Looking visibly relieved as the hearing ended, Lady Ashton was congratulated by a handful of the MEPs who will vote on the appointments of all new commissioners on 26 January. "She is willing to learn and listen," said Ana Gomes, a Socialist Portuguese MEP. "She has plenty of potential. But of course her first real test will come when she is faced with a crisis."

Yet Lady Ashton will be forced to get up to speed quickly if she is to make herself heard among her European colleagues, including her immediate boss, the EU President Herman van Rompuy, and the European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso. The Spanish Foreign Minister, whose country currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, has also made a bid for the limelight with an ambitious programme to re-energise the Middle East Peace Process and hold a EU-US summit.

"Foreign policy has become a very crowded field and she has to get to grips with a very messy construction. It's an impossible job for one person. But that's not her fault, it's the fault of those who created this structure," says Mr Brok.

Lady Ashton was the first of the new European Commission appointees to be questioned by MEPs in a 10-day round of hearings. Bulgaria's Rumiana Jeleva, the EU's new Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, who will be questioned today, is among the more controversial newcomers who may struggle to clear allegations relating to her husband's business dealings that have fuelled fears of a possible conflict of interest.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths teachers needed for supply work in Ipswich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Maths teachers requir...

Executive Assistant/Events Coordinator - Old Street, London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Executive Assistant/Event...

Female PE Teacher

£23760 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: The JobAre you a trai...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering