FACTBOX - Who is EU's Catherine Ashton?

Fri Nov 20, 2009 10:41am EST

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(Reuters) - European Union leaders appointed Catherine Ashton as its foreign affairs chief at a summit on Thursday, EU officials said.

The high representative for foreign affairs and security policy will have enhanced powers under the bloc's Lisbon reform treaty and head an external action service designed to give the EU more influence on the world stage.

Below are some details about Catherine Ashton, 53.

* POLITICS:

-- Ashton has had little foreign affairs experience, but she has proved adept at picking up the busy EU trade portfolio, which she took on in 2008 after former commissioner Peter Mandelson returned to British politics.

She is virtually unknown in Britain where she has never held one of the main cabinet posts. She sat in the upper house of Lords rather than being elected as a member of parliament with a strong local support base.

* LIFE DETAILS:

-- Catherine Margaret Ashton was born in Upholland in Lancashire, northern England, in March 1956.

-- From 1983-89 she was Director of Business in the Community, a group set up to encourage companies to have a positive impact on areas like the community and the environment. She worked in particular to improved the lot of disabled workers.

-- She chaired the Health Authority in Hertfordshire, north of London, from 1998-2001, and became a Vice President of the National Council for One Parent Families.

-- In 2001, Ashton was made parliamentary under-secretary of state in the Department for Education and Skills, where she dealt with issues ranging from school policies to a ban on smacking by childminders.

-- She became a life member of the upper house in 1999 when Tony Blair was prime minister and took the title Baroness Ashton of Upholland.

She was appointed Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council in Gordon Brown's first cabinet in June 2007.

-- Ashton helped steer the Lisbon Treaty through the Britain's upper house and has dealt with EU justice and home affairs issues in her previous positions.

Sources: Reuters/ec.europa.eu

(Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit)

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