November 20, 2009 / 10:52 AM / 10 years ago

Surprise EU foreign chief shrugs off criticism

LONDON (Reuters) - The European Union’s new foreign affairs chief on Friday dismissed criticism of her lack of experience and said her role would strengthen Europe’s voice in the world.

Catherine Ashton, a Briton who is currently EU trade commissioner, told BBC radio: “I have always been a believer that together as an economic superpower ... we can do an awful lot more. It doesn’t take away from the nation state.”

Asked who would make decisions on important foreign policy issues, she told BBC radio that views would still “emerge from the council” — the grouping of EU member governments.

“The council ... will deliberate, will determine the views with my support, I hope with my input and expertise, and that will be the voice that I will speak with,” she said.

Ashton, who has a low profile in Britain, was a surprise choice for the job after a last-minute compromise at a Brussels summit on Thursday.

Criticized in the British media for a lack of foreign policy experience and the fact that she has never held an elected position, Ashton said she was “humbled” by the appointment but that she had the right skills and that EU leaders were comfortable with their choice.

“Over the next few months and years I aim to show I am the best person for this job.”

She said she was not unknown on the global stage as, in her role as trade commissioner, she had worked with ministers across the world at vital trade talks.

Under a compromise deal at the summit, Ashton got the foreign policy role and Belgium’s Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, who is also little known abroad, was named as the 27-nation EU’s first president. Both roles were created under the Lisbon Treaty, design to streamline the running of the bloc.

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