It has been all too easy for critics to denigrate the tenure of Baroness Ashton as the first head of EU foreign policy, and she has often seemed reluctant to blow her own trumpet even when warranted, as with the Serbia-Kosovo agreement she brokered. Similarly, the euro crisis has given Eurosceptics new reasons to question the viability of the European project.
But the Europe that often looks so bureaucratic and vulnerable from the inside, even to many of its supporters, still looks appealing from the outside, despite its travails. Recent reminders are the accession of Croatia and Latvia’s application to join the euro. Yesterday supplied another.
Lady Ashton returned from her second visit to Egypt in two weeks, where she had become the first foreign official to meet the ousted President, Mohamed Morsi. It is still not known where he is being held, but she was able to spend more than two hours with him. Without giving details of their discussion, she reported that he was in good health, had access to TV and newspapers and was able to follow events.
That this visit happened at all, however, represents an accolade both for the EU and its foreign policy chief and should be recognised as such. It is hard to conceive of any other outside official – leader or diplomat – representing any other institution, who would have been allowed to see Mr Morsi by Egypt’s military leader. The thinking appears to be that the word of the European Union and Lady Ashton would be trusted, not just by both sides in this highly polarised country, but internationally as well. Talk of a common EU foreign policy may be overambitious, but the ability of the EU to play a unique diplomatic role has been illustrated once again.