Catherine Ashton

By Barry, John | Newsweek, January 3, 2011 | Go to article overview

Catherine Ashton


Barry, John, Newsweek


Byline: John Barry

Europe's first foreign minister on Middle East peace, the rise of China, getting around without a plane, and the job she really wanted.

Initial reactions [to your getting the job] were pretty dismissive, weren't they?

Most of the criticism came from Euro-skeptic newspapers in Britain and Euro-skeptic members of the European Parliament. I would have been more upset had they welcomed my appointment.

Was sexism a factor?

There are too few women in top jobs around the world, but many more than a generation ago. Among the foreign ministers in the EU, we have gone from no women when I started this job to having three now. I remember learning at school that glass is not a solid but a liquid--perhaps the glass ceiling is slowly beginning to drain away.

As Europe's first foreign minister, you more or less had to invent the job.

Harold Macmillan, Britain's prime minister half a century ago, famously said the biggest influence on him were "events, dear boy, events." Events have shaped my job, too. The Haiti earthquake was a huge challenge early on. I spent three fascinating, horrifying days there. It has been a similar story with other challenges, from the Middle East peace process to building Europe's relationship with the rising Asian giants, China and India. Events dictate.

Your background is that of a politician, not a foreign-policy professional. Has that helped or hurt?

For much of my adult life I have been a negotiator, 20 years ago bringing companies, local government, and unions together in local development projects, more recently as a minister in the House of Lords. [Labour Party Prime Ministers] Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had healthy majorities in the House of Commons, but they never had a majority in the House of Lords. Every time I took legislation through the Lords, I had to build alliances with peers from other parties as well as independents. …

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