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The Baroness Ashton of Upholland
LG GCMG PC
Official portrait of Baroness Ashton of Upholland crop 2, 2024.jpg
Official portrait, 2024
Chancellor of the University of Warwick
Assumed office
1 January 2017
Vice-Chancellor Stuart Croft
Preceded by Richard Lambert
First Vice-President of the European Commission
In office
10 February 2010 – 31 October 2014
President José Manuel Barroso
Preceded by Margot Wallström
Succeeded by Frans Timmermans
High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
In office
1 December 2009 – 31 October 2014
Preceded by Javier Solana (Common Foreign and Security Policy)
Succeeded by Federica Mogherini
European Commissioner for Trade
In office
3 October 2008 – 1 December 2009
President José Manuel Barroso
Preceded by Peter Mandelson
Succeeded by Benita Ferrero-Waldner
Leader of the House of Lords
Lord President of the Council
In office
28 June 2007 – 3 October 2008
Prime Minister Gordon Brown
Preceded by The Baroness Amos
Succeeded by The Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice
In office
8 May 2007 – 27 June 2007
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Herself
Succeeded by The Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
In office
9 September 2004 – 8 May 2007
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by The Lord Filkin
Succeeded by Herself
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Sure Start, Early Years, Childcare and School Standards
In office
12 June 2001 – 9 September 2004
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Jacqui Smith
Succeeded by The Lord Filkin
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
Assumed office
20 October 1999
Life Peerage
Personal details
Born
Catherine Margaret Ashton

(1956-03-20) 20 March 1956 (age 68)
Upholland, West Lancashire
Political party Non-affiliated
Labour
Spouse
Peter Kellner
(m. 1988)
Education Bedford College, London

Catherine Margaret Ashton, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, LG, GCMG, PC (born 20 March 1956) is a British Labour politician who served as the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and First Vice President of the European Commission in the Barroso Commission from 2009 to 2014.

Her political career began in 1999 when she was created a life peer as Baroness Ashton of Upholland, of St Albans in the County of Hertfordshire, by Tony Blair's Labour government. She became the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Education and Skills in 2001 and subsequently in the Ministry of Justice in 2004. She was appointed a Privy Councillor in May 2006 and Lady Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter in April 2023.

Ashton became Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council in Gordon Brown's first Cabinet in June 2007. She was instrumental in steering the EU's Treaty of Lisbon through the UK Parliament's upper chamber. In 2008, she was appointed as the British European Commissioner and became the Commissioner for Trade in the European Commission.

In December 2009, she became the inaugural High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy that was created by the Treaty of Lisbon. As High Representative, Ashton served as the EU's foreign policy chief. Despite being criticised by some, particularly at the time of her appointment and in the early stages of her term of office, for her limited previous experience of international diplomacy, Ashton subsequently won praise for her work as a negotiator in difficult international situations, in particular for her role in bringing Serbia and Kosovo to an agreement in April 2013 that normalised their ties, and in the P5+1 talks with Iran which led to the November 2013 Geneva interim agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme.

In January 2017, Ashton became Chancellor of the University of Warwick, succeeding Sir Richard Lambert and becoming Warwick's first female chancellor.

Early life

Catherine Ashton was born at Upholland, Lancashire, on 20 March 1956. She comes from a working-class family, with a background in coal mining.

Ashton attended Upholland Grammar School in Billinge Higher End, Lancashire, then Wigan Mining and Technical College, Wigan. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology in 1977 from Bedford College, London (now part of Royal Holloway, University of London). Ashton was the first person in her family to attend university.

Career

United Kingdom

Between 1977 and 1983, Ashton worked for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) as an administrator and in 1982 was elected as its national treasurer and subsequently as one of its vice-chairs. From 1979 to 1981 she was business manager of the Coverdale Organisation, a management consultancy.

As of 1983 she worked for the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work. From 1983 to 1989 she was director of Business in the Community, working with business to tackle inequality, and she established the Employers' Forum on Disability, Opportunity Now, and the Windsor Fellowship. For most of the 1990s, she was a freelance policy adviser. She chaired the Health Authority in Hertfordshire from 1998 to 2001 and she became a vice-president of the National Council for One-Parent Families.

She was created a Labour Life Peer as Baroness Ashton of Upholland in 1999, under Prime Minister Tony Blair. In June 2001 she was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Education and Skills. In 2002 she became Minister responsible for Sure Start in the same department, and in September 2004 she was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Department for Constitutional Affairs, with responsibilities including the National Archives and the Public Guardianship Office. Ashton was sworn of the Privy Council in 2006, and she became Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the new Ministry of Justice in May 2007.

In 2005 she was voted "Minister of the Year" by The House magazine and "Peer of the Year" by Channel 4. In 2006 she won the "Politician of the Year" award at the annual Stonewall Awards, made to those who had a positive impact on the lives of British LGBT people.

On 28 June 2007, Prime Minister Gordon Brown appointed Ashton to HM Cabinet as Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council. As Government Leader in the House of Lords, she was responsible for steering the Lisbon Treaty through the Upper House.

European Union

On 3 October 2008, Ashton was nominated by the UK to replace Peter Mandelson as the European Commissioner for Trade. Because European Commissioners may not engage in any other occupation during their term of office, whether gainful or not, she used the procedural device previously adopted in 1984 by Lord Cockfield and took a leave of absence from the House of Lords on 14 October 2008, retaining her peerage but not her seat.

During her term, Ashton represented the EU in negotiations related to a long-running dispute over beef with the United States (May 2009), led the EU delegation in an agreement with South Korea that removed virtually all tariffs between the two economies (October 2009) and represented the EU in ending a long-running dispute over banana imports, principally involving Latin America and the EU.

Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

AshtonClinton
Ashton with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

On 19 November 2009, Ashton was appointed the EU's first High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security policy. Her appointment was agreed at a summit by 27 European Union leaders in Brussels. Having initially pushed for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to become President of the European Council, Gordon Brown eventually relented on the condition that the post of High Representative be awarded to a Briton.

Ashton's relative obscurity prior to her appointment prompted comment in the media. The Guardian newspaper reported that her appointment as High Representative had received a "cautious welcome... from international relations experts". The Economist described her as being a virtual unknown with paltry political experience, having no foreign-policy background and never having been elected to anything. The magazine credited her, however, with piloting the Lisbon Treaty through the House of Lords, handling the European Commission's Trade Portfolio without disagreement with her colleagues, and being suited to consensus-building.

Secretary Kerry Shakes Hands With EU High Representative Ashton Before Meeting in Munich (12252836383)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with Ashton, Munich, 1 February 2014
Mid East Quartet
Ashton (far right) with the rest of the Quartet on the Middle East (2010)
Belgique - Bruxelles - Schuman - Berlaymont - 01
The European Commission, of which Catherine Ashton was Vice-President from 2010 to 2014

Critics predicted she would be out of her depth. Nile Gardiner of The Heritage Foundation, who opposed a European Union role in foreign and security policy on principle, wrote in The Daily Telegraph "This may well be the most ridiculous appointment in EU history". Daniel Hannan, a British Conservative MEP, complained that she had "no background in trade issues at a time when the EU is engaged in critical negotiations with Canada, Korea and the WTO". The Guardian quoted an anonymous Whitehall source as commenting "Cathy just got lucky...The appointment of her and Herman Van Rompuy European Council president was a complete disgrace. They are no more than garden gnomes."

By contrast, former Home Secretary Charles Clarke said: "I have seen Cathy in action. I have great respect for her. She is excellent at building good relations with people and a good negotiator". Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, a human-rights pressure group, said: "people underestimate Cathy at their peril. She is not a great big bruiser. She is a persuader and a charmer. That is the secret of her success."

After a confirmation hearing by the Trade Committee of the European Parliament, Ashton was approved by the Parliament on 22 October 2008 by 538 to 40 votes, with 63 abstentions. She took office on 1 December 2009 for a five-year-term.

She was appointed Dame Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) in the 2015 New Year Honours List for services to the European Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Notable events of her term as High Representative

2014-02-18 Irankonferenz (12610684674)
Ashton and Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, the first round of Comprehensive agreement on Iranian nuclear programme, February 2014

Notable events of her term included:

  • Establishing the European External Action Service (1 December 2010), which merged the external relations departments of the European Commission and the Council of the European Union, and was to have diplomats seconded from national foreign services. Throughout the first half of 2010 Ashton sought agreement between the Council, the Parliament and the Commission over the shape of the EEAS. Parliament agreed to the plan on 8 July, when MEPs approved the service by 549 votes for and 78 against with 17 abstentions. The Council approved the transfer of departments to the EAS on 20 July. Until the EEAS became operational, Ashton had been supported by a staff of about 30 people.
  • Working with EU Special Representative Alexander Rondos to head Operation Atalanta: an EU military action off the coast of Somalia, which curtailed piracy (May 2012).
  • Helping to reach a deal between Serbia and Kosovo that normalised their ties (April 2013).
  • Successfully negotiating with the Egyptian Army a visit to the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, in their custody. She reported that he was in good health and was well treated and aware of current affairs. (July 2013.)
  • Chairmanship of the P5+1 in their negotiations with Iran on nuclear matters in 2013, which led to the Geneva interim agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme (November 2013).
  • Her visit to Kyiv during Ukraine's Euromaidan protests.

Personal life

Ashton lives in London with her husband, Peter Kellner, the former president of the online polling organisation, YouGov. Ashton and Kellner have been married since 1988. Ashton has two children and three stepchildren.

Other activities

Catherine Ashton is a member of the Global Leadership Foundation, an organisation that works to support democratic leadership, prevent and resolve conflict through mediation and promote good governance in the form of democratic institutions, open markets, human rights and the rule of law. It does so by making available, discreetly and in confidence, the experience of former leaders to today's national leaders. It is a not-for-profit organisation composed of former heads of government, senior governmental and international organisation officials who work closely with heads of government on governance-related issues of concern to them.

She has been the Chancellor of the University of Warwick since 2016.

Honours and awards

Coat of Arms of Catherine Margaret Ashton, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, LG, GCMG, PC
Garter-encircled arms of Catherine Margaret Ashton, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, LG, GCMG, PC

Awards

In February 2013, Ashton was assessed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom by Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4.

She was awarded an honorary degree from the University of East London in 2005.

British honours

Foreign honours

  • SVK Rad Bieleho Dvojkriza 2 triedy BAR.svg 2nd Class of the Order of the White Double Cross (Slovakia)

See also

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