Article originally published in Red Pepper in February, 2011.
“We’re starting a betting pool on how long Ashton has left,” a fellow hack said as I sat down Wednesday evening in Brussels for an off-record briefing on Egypt and Tunisia from EU foreign policy chief Catherinne Ashton’s Middle East and north Africa managing director. “What are you in for? Two months? A week?”
This was only the slightly more jocular version of the growing elite consensus, expressed most prominently by a widely read Le Monde piece last week that described the Baroness as “nulle”, or “useless”. A pro-democracy upheaval is occurring in “our” sphere of influence and the EU is playing second fiddle to Washington, as one MEP put it, in dealing with the situation.
Ashton’s people deny this and insist that she, unlike her US counterpart Hilary Clinton, is hamstrung by the need to forge a common position between 27 fissiparous member states. But the critics will have none of this. For them, now is the make-or-break moment for what has been, so the consensus goes, a thoroughly unremarkable performance over the last 13 months for the EU’s new diplomatic-corps-cum-foreign-ministry, the External Action Service, and it’s grand poobah, High Representative Ashton. Continue reading →