Women in Power: EU High Representative Catherine Ashton

Catherine Ashton 2009

By: Jelena Jovic and Robert Guttman

November 12, 2013.


Catherine Aston has become known in last few years for her role as a spokesperson for the P5+1 negotiations. The EU High Representative (basically the EU Foreign Minister) has become a lead spokesperson for the Iran Nuclear Talks known as P5+1 (members of the P5+1 are the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France, plus Germany).

Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, is looking forward to the November 20th meeting in Geneva on the Iran Nuclear Talks. There appears to be movement for a possible deal at the upcoming talks.  There still is a long way to go, but optimism seem to be replacing pessimism in these long stalled talks whose ultimate goal is getting Iran to renounce building  nuclear weapon. If an agreement is reached, the P5+1 countries would most likely lessen economic sanctions against Iran.

Despite the fact that hopes had been raised, after negotiation that took place in Geneva on November 7-8 2013, no progress was made in an effort to limit or abandon Iran’s nuclear enrichment.

Recent talks in Geneva have been more positive than in the past. However, the world is still waiting for the breakthrough, where Iran is seriously ready to give up the capacity to build nuclear weapons.

“If we can find a diplomatic solution to this, we really have to do everything we can, but we do it with our own principles and determination intact. So we’ve pursued what we’ve called a twin-track approach, wanting to solve it diplomatically but being prepared to put the pressure on to try and get the diplomacy to work. And that’s how I think we should continue. We should be ready to move if they’re ready to move, but not ready to move until they are ready, they’ve done it, they’ve proved it, and we are confident in them, just as I’ve said to them they need to be confident in us. But if it can be done, we’ll do it” Ashton said during her recent speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC on September 30, 2013

Catherine Ashton, as the leading foreign policy voice for the European Union, makes her one of the most prominent women in power in Europe today.

“Be yourself, because don’t deny the parts of you that have made you a mother or a sister or a wife or a daughter or a friend or whatever you are. Be that, too, because it’s much better to be all of the things that you can be “said Ashton at the Wilson Center.

In addition to Catherine Ashton’s negotiation role between Iran and western powers, Lady Ashton is known as a humanitarian and advocate for peace and stability. Recently, she has been visiting Syrians who fled the violence of the civil war in their country. The many refugee camps have been set up in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

After she visited the refugee camps, Lady Ashton described the situation as a disaster.

“So many children without parents, so many people without relatives and friends. We have to help them rebuild it. So the sooner we get to Geneva II, the sooner we get the process going, and the sooner we commit to rebuilding the country, the better”.

Ashton said that the presence of so many people in Jordan and Lebanon creates a burden for the economy in those countries “I talk with the ministers in both countries regularly. They’ve really done a fantastic job of being willing to take people and to try and do their very best for them with a lot of international support. I’m very proud that the EU is the biggest donor to the refugees and to supporting in every possible way efforts to provide aid and support. But it is those nations who have been willing to open the gates, as it were, and take them in, even though the circumstances are very difficult, and for the populations”.

Ashton also said that she is very concerned about the current situation in the Middle East and that her main concern is children.  Senator John McCain, who also had an opportunity to visit Jordan — the largest camp in Jordan, reported some months ago that walking through it the head of the camp said to him, “Look at these kids. They’re the next generation of Jihadists.”

“I don’t necessarily agree that when you meet the children in the camps you think of them as potential Jihadists” Ashton said. “I think their lives will just be very sad, and I think their lives will be unfulfilled if we don’t do something. You know, they’re getting some education. UNICEF is there. The schools are running. The kids look and behave just like any other kids, but their lives will be built upon this terrible, terrible story, and terrible history, which if it’s at its least bad they’ll go home and rebuild. But for most of them they will have lost so much, including so many parts of their family. So for them it’s going to be about giving them back the childhood they never had and helping them rebuild it. And I think we should look at it that way around and not think of them as potential enemies, because they’re not”.

Lady Catherine Ashton, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, is the first woman high representative of the EU. Her career is not steeped in foreign policy; her political career took off in 1999 when she was created a Life Peer (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) by the Labour Government. Under this government she became the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Education and Skills in 2001 and subsequently in the Department for Constitutional Affairs and Ministry of Justice in 2004. In May 2006, Baroness Ashton became a Privy Councillor (PC).

Catherine Ashton was appointed Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Queen’s Privy Council in Gordon Brown’s first Cabinet in June 2007. She was a Leader of the Lords, she held responsibility in the House of Lords for equalities issues, and she was instrumental in steering the EU’s Treaty of Lisbon through the UK’s upper chamber. In 2008, she succeeded Peter Mandelson as Commissioner for Trade in the European Commission.

In December 2009, she became the first woman to take on the role of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy that was created by the Treaty of Lisbon.

Baroness Ashton comes from a working class family, with a background in coal-mining. She was the first woman in her family who went to the university and was granted a degree. She attended Upholland Grammar School in Billinge, Lancashire, after that she enrolled in Wigan Mining and Technical College in Wigan.  Ashton graduated with a BSc in Sociology in 1977 from Bedford College in London which is now part of Royal Holloway University of London.

“I come from a family where I was the first woman to go to university and to really move away from the village I grew up in. And I come from generations of people who had nothing really, very much, certainly not the chance of education. So that’s why the first thing I’d say is get education, because it’s the most important thing.”


Listening her speech at the Wilson Center, I was impressed by her pleasant and not pretentious demeanor.  In spite of her being called Lady Ashton, she is very down to earth person.







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