When Catherine Ashton was appointed the European Union’s first high representative for foreign and security policy in 2009, many met her arrival with disappointment. She was not the first choice for the role, and her foreign policy experience was limited to a short stint as commissioner for trade.
The new position of high representative, which included a dual role as vice president of the European Commission, was created by the Lisbon Treaty and intended to strengthen the EU’s collective foreign policy. The British baroness’s appointment, for some, reflected a lack of ambition. Indeed, for those suspicious of an expanded EU role in an area still regarded as the preserve of nation-states, lack of ambition was seen as a good thing.
But in an illustration of the impossible character of the job, over the past five years Ashton has been simultaneously condemned for being too cautious and too ambitious.