When she was catapulted into her new position almost all of us scratched our heads at how Cathy Ashton – or should I say Baroness Ashton of Upholland could possibly be qualified to be not only Britain’s European Commissioner but also High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union. I, and it seems most of the rest of the country, seem to have missed her illustrious career in foreign affairs and diplomacy: but it’s probably unfair to say that it was a last ditch attempt by the dying Labour government to ensure some continuance of presence… but then again perhaps not.
Of course, on appointment there was much hullabaloo about how Cathy Ashton was a dedicated public servant who’d serve our requirements in Europe with the ‘upmost dedication’ – a phrase that along with ‘the prime minister has every confidence’ is about as subtle as a bell crashing out of the belfry. So it will come as a surprise to some, and no surprise to others, that the Daily Mail is reporting that our dear commissioner has missed four out of ten “key” meetings in Brussels, essentially leaving us ‘without a voice at the top table’. Digging a little deeper into the statistics and it would appear that the two roles Ms.Ashton currently holds aren’t compatible with further revelations that half the meetings she has attended have been abandoned by her before they ended – and presumably before any conclusions had been reached, and it seems that our European neighbours are getting a little bored of her swanning out of meetings as commissioner to go and act as an ineffective voice on the international stage.
It is about time that Cameron, who claimed he was committed to strengthening our position in Europe look to replace her as commissioner without delay allowing her to concentrate all her efforts on her international role as presently she’s failing to do either role well, and convienently has an excuse for poor performance whichever way she turns.
As a broader point the position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union should be thought through more thoroughly – it is, potentially, a really powerful position. An opportunity for the European Union to assert a real international voice for the whole continental union on issues which often affect us not just nationally but as one continent of people. This is especially true when flexing our muscles against China, Russia and America where traditionally individual states might be tempted to scupper European needs for short term national need. Indeed played properly, with full support of the EP and EC the High Representative could be a powerful player in the role of the European Union as a global superpower: by many of the guides to being a super-power the EU already ticks the boxes, it would certainly work in the favour of Britain, Germany and France, so why reign it in?
The door to do this is open now, it won’t stay open – given time China and Russia are going to be real powers, not just in military might, but economically in direct trade, energy and natural resources, and like it or not european nations are going to have to deal with these nations: which individually would definitely be on their terms and not on those of the individual nation states, but supranationally, the EU could really flex it’s muscles and act as a powerful balancing lever in the next 100 years.