Criticisms of EU’s Ashton Ignore Member States’ Role in Undermining Common Policy

Over the weekend, Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s high representative for foreign policy, oversaw 10 hours of talks in Istanbul, Turkey, between Iran and the six powers negotiating with Tehran on its nuclear program, earning the respect of a number of diplomats. The praise for Ashton’s handling of the talks contrasts with past criticisms for her slow response to crises, her absence from the media and her tendency to follow an American lead rather than taking a forceful European stand.

“It is in everyone’s interest that the EU has and plays a useful role in the Iran talks, and it is in everyone’s interest for Catherine Ashton to be the person who at this stage can manage this,” said Nicu Popescu, who heads the European Council on Foreign Relations’ program on Russia and Wider Europe. “She had a ‘value added’ in the process, and hopefully this will create a new dynamic in the way EU member states see the emergence of the External Action Service.”

Nevertheless, Popescu told Trend Lines that the criticisms of Ashton and the External Action Service set up to assist her will likely continue, as her performance is hampered by structural issues as much as by any personal flaws. “Ashton is as much a reflection of the sorry state of the foreign policy ambitions of EU member states as a reflection of supposed policy failures,” he said.

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