EurActiv.com Correspondent's Choice

This story about the rumours surrounding the possible resignation of Catherine Ashton was published by EurActiv on 4th May 2010.

EU diplomats have dismissed rumours that EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton might step down from her post under pressure from member states and especially her native UK, where elections are scheduled for Thursday (6 May).

“It’s pure imagination,” said European Commission spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen yesterday (3 May), responding to articles published in the British press which presented Baroness Ashton’s departure from her role as EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy as imminent.

The British conservative press reported that unnamed EU sources were blaming Ashton for failing to launch the new European diplomatic service. The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail stressed that criticism of Ashton mainly came from France.

French position

A spokesperson from the French Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels firmly denied the rumours. “We completely back the work Catherine Ashton has carried out thus far, including that on the EU diplomatic service. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner clearly showed his support for her work during the last Council in Luxembourg last week.”

France has been critical of Ashton on a number of occasions, notably regarding her position on the Middle East, her lack of international visibility and her limited knowledge of foreign languages. But Paris has never openly criticised the Baroness for her efforts to set up the EU’s diplomatic service.

To further defuse criticism, diplomats even displayed satisfaction with Ashton’s linguistic performances. “She already speaks French well enough and she is also planning to take lessons,” the French spokesperson said.

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