In her speech, High Representative Ashton talked about the progress made on the strategic objectives she set for EU foreign policy at the beginning of her mandate: the building of the European External Action Service, dealing with challenges in the EU's neighbourhood, and strengthening the EU's strategic partnerships.
Looking back on the beginning of her mandate, Ashton described the journey of building a service from scratch and thanked her staff for their support. Building the EEAS involved fusing institutional cultures - a challenge that once overcome allowed the EEAS to effectively combine all tools of the EU's external action, from diplomacy and defence to humanitarian relief, crisis intervention and long term economic and social development.
Already at the outset of her mandate the High Representative declared the EU's neighbourhood a top priority of the EU's foreign policy agenda. This need was underlined by the dramatic events that followed, both in the East and South of the EU. Ashton described the EU's response to the Arab Awaking and the role of the EEAS in adjusting the neighbourhood policy to new strategic circumstances. She particularly highlighted the role of task forces in bringing together politics and economics and securing lasting investment in the social and economic development of the region.
Ashton spoke about the current crisis in Ukraine and the EU's resolve to support the democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people. She stressed that the EU and Member States worked hand in hand on bringing a swift and peaceful resolution to the current conflict.
A particular highlight of the current mandate had been the breakthrough achieved in the Serbia Kosovo talks on a normalisation of relations in April 2013. Ashton expressed the hope that this would inspire other countries in the region to pursue the path of democratic reforms.
Turning to the cooperation with strategic partners, the High Representative highlighted the important cooperation on the talks she is leading on behalf of the E3/EU +3 on finding a solution to the concerns over Iran's nuclear programme. Ashton also highlighted the close cooperation with the United States and others on a broad range of strategic issues. Over the past five years the EU has deepened its relations with various regional organisations, such as the African Union, the League of Arab States and ASEAN and enhanced its position at the United Nations.
In closing High Representative Ashton thanked her staff for their hard work and professionalism and asked them to fully support the incoming High Representative whom she congratulated on her appointment.