Resignation of key aide upstages Ashton's foreign policy plans

Departure of spokesman from "a very tough job" casts shadow over the embattled EU Foreign Affairs head's fightback

The EU's new foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton suffered a fresh blow to her reputation yesterday, with the resignation of her chief spokesman even as she unveiled details of the almighty new European diplomatic service she will run.

Baroness Ashton's grand announcement yesterday on the 7,000-strong foreign service was meant to turn a page on weeks of embarrassing criticism which suggested she was out of her depth and not up to the demanding new job she occupies.

But hopes of asserting her authority were overshadowed by the announcement of her spokesman Lutz Güllner that he was leaving the post he has held since Lady Ashton was appointed at the end of last year.

"I had to consider my professional future and decided that it was elsewhere," Mr Güllner told The Independent, adding that he would work at the European Commission's trade department as of next week. He flatly denied press reports that he had slipped up on various occasions by making critical remarks about his boss's abilities, but admitted it had been "a very tough job".

Brussels sources said Mr Güllner had come under intense pressure after French newspapers blasted Lady Ashton for not travelling to Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the January earthquake and for her lack of foreign policy experience. In one incident, she reportedly lost her temper and blamed her spokesman directly for the negative press coverage. Mr Güllner said: "Cathy is in a very difficult position, mainly because of all the fighting between all the different EU institutions. But we have always had a good relationship and I believe I worked hard for her and did a good job."

The former NHS executive's appointment as de facto EU foreign minister stunned even EU insiders last December when she beat far more high-profile contenders to the post. Her only international experience was her one-year tenure as EU Trade Commissioner, a role she took over from Peter Mandelson.

She has struggled to recover from a jittery first few weeks, when she often deferred to more seasoned foreign ministers during meetings and put off travelling to the world's capitals. She has reportedly started learning French after fierce criticism in Paris about her linguistic deficiencies.

In her role as EU High Represetnative for Foreign and Security policy she wields enormous power within the EU, where she is responsible for shaping foreign policy on behalf of 27 member states. She will head up the European External Action Service (EEAS), a new diplomatic service created under the Lisbon Treaty which will put around 7,000 diplomats, a multimillion-euro budget and a string of EU diplomatic bureaus at her disposal. On a pay grade of almost £270,000 she is also one of the world's highest-paid officials.

Appearing more confident yesterday than in earlier press appearances, she said that she had delivered an ambitious proposal that would offer much more than "traditional diplomacy".

"The EEAS I want is one that helps to build a distinct European response to the 21st-century agenda. A service that represents the best that Europe has to offer," she said.

She also stressed that she had delivered the plan "ahead of schedule", evidently in an effort to squash predictions that she would be forced to delay the proposal amid squabbling between the national capitals.

However, the launch of the new service still risks being blighted by infighting as European capitals and rival EU institutions vie for power and key posts. Already there has been a struggle over which official diplomatic languages should be spoken – English, French, German – and disagreement over the appointment by the European Commission's President José Manuel Barroso of the EU's new ambassador in Washington. Meanwhile, the EU's newest members are worried that they will be under-represented in the service.

"It will be very hard to push this through each one of the 27 European capitals and the European Parliament, all of which will make demands on Catherine, because this new body will be there for decades to come. And then there is the question of how much it will cost," said one EU official on condition of anonymity. "Clearly she is not yet out of the woods."

The new service should be fully in place within two years, although the jury is still out on whether Lady Ashton has sufficient gravitas to preside over it.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?