European Union External Action

Catherine Ashton reaches the end of her mandate as EU High Representative

31/10/2014 - 00:00
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Since 2009 Catherine Ashton has been the EU Foreign Policy chief responsible for coordinating and leading the EU's Foreign and Security Policy. Over the last five years, amongst several major issues, she has coordinated the EU's response to the Arab Spring, negotiated the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo and chaired the International talks with Iran over its nuclear programme. She has also chaired the monthly meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels. The 31st of October marks the end of her mandate – although she will continue chairing the Iran nuclear talks.

Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy 2009 - 2014

The Lisbon Treaty that created her post also created the EU's diplomatic service known as the European External Action Service (EEAS) which was set up in 2011 under Catherine Ashton. The role of the EEAS is to assist the High Representative in making EU Foreign Policy more coherent and comprehensive. It provides a common voice for Europe in the world.

The UK’s Catherine Ashton was appointed to the role by all EU Member States in 2009 and her successor from November 2014 will be Federica Mogherini, from Italy.

The video below gives a flavour of some of the issues Catherine Ashton and the staff of the EEAS have dealt with over the last years.

The European Union plays important roles in diplomacy, trade, development aid and work with global organisations like the United Nations and NATO. One of the key tasks of the EEAS is to ensure that all the different activities that the EU performs abroad are consistent and effective. This is particularly important because many of the EU's foreign programmes are organised by different departments of the European Commission.

From chairing the international talks with Iran over its nuclear programme, to facilitating the agreement on normalising relations between Serbia and Kosovo in April 2013, the EU and its High Representative Catherine Ashton have shown the effectiveness of EU diplomacy.

Since its creation, the EEAS has built deep strategic relationships with key partners of the EU such as the US and China. It has also been an effective part of the UN with Ban Ki Moon himself telling the UN Security Council that the EU and UN increasing work side by side on peace-keeping, civilian crisis management and preventative diplomacy. The former head of NATO – Anders Fogh Rasmussen  - said that the service had made a significant difference in how the EU and NATO work together.

The EEAS has worked to ensure that the EU supports countries like Burma/Myanmar that are emerging from long periods of authoritarian rule. It also helps state building in Somalia and supports the humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa to prevent further deterioration and ensure that the shipping lanes and international trade are free from piracy through the EU Naval Force “Navfor”.

The European External Action Service and the High Representatives are also responsible for the 139 EU Delegations around the world which represent the Union internationally. Its staff consist of civil servants form the European Commission, Council of the European Union and national diplomats from the EU’s member states.




Since her appointment in November 2009, Catherine Ashton and her team have worked to set up the European External Action Service and to foster EU diplomacy around the world during a time of crises and challenges. It has been a long journey that will continue with the new High Representative Federica Mogherini.


195 trips outside the EU, 96 countries visited (70 outside the EU) and 654 days spent building EU Diplomacy around the globe. It has been a busy mandate for Catherine Ashton.

Here are some more examples of the roles the European Union plays beyond its borders:

A majorcontributor to international peace

Through its political, practical and economic support, the EU has played a crucial role in building peace in the Western Balkans since the Yugoslav wars. One shining example is the dialogue facilitated by the European Union between Serbia and Kosovo, which led to a landmark deal in April 2013.

Resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict is a strategic priority for Europe. The EU is working together with international partners - the United Nations, the United States and Russia - in the 'Quartet'. The EU aims to build a two-state solution, with an independent, democratic Palestinian state existing side-by-side with Israel in peace and security.

Aresponsible neighbour

To the east and south of the European Union lie many countries which have undergone – or are still undergoing – tumultuous political change. To ease these transitions, the European Neighbourhood Policy aims to maintain solid and friendly relations with countries at the European Union's borders. Promoting democracy and human rights while opening trade and cooperating on visa issues are some of the Policy's aims.

A development partner

Did you know that the EU is the largest single donor of development aid? Together, the Union and its Member States provide more than half of official development assistance (ODA) globally. This contribution makes a huge difference to millions of people's livelihoods around the world.

A Human Rights defender

The Union is committed to human rights and works to ensure they are respected universally. The EU has made human rights a central aspect of its foreign relations and expresses this focus in political dialogues with third countries, in its development policy and aid, and in its participation in multilateral forums, such as the United Nations.

A partner to the United Nations

The EU works closely with the United Nations on a host of issues. The Union’s belief in multilateralism reflects an attachment to negotiated, binding rules in international relations. The EU's relation with the United Nations is explicitly spelled out in the Treaty of Lisbon.

A force for global security

Under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), the EU operates civilian and military missions worldwide. These missions carry out a variety of tasks, ranging from managing borders to training local police. The Operation EUNAVFOR Atalanta off the coast of Somalia, for example, tackles piracy and protects humanitarian shipments of the World Food Programme.

Crisis Response & Humanitarian Aid

The EU and the Member States provide around 50 % of global funding for emergency relief. This provides life-saving aid to the victims of disasters, refugees and others in dire need. The European Union responds in a coordinated way to international emergencies of all kinds –earthquakes in Haiti, tsunamis in Japan or flooding in Pakistan. This brings together all the tools the European Union has at its disposal.

Advocate of action on climate change

The EU was instrumental in negotiating the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and is today a major supporter of the UN's effort to create an international climate agreement cutting emissions and limiting global warming. For developing countries, the EU provides substantial development funding to help them face climate change.

A trading bloc

The European Union is the world’s largest trading bloc. Trade is a common policy, which means that international trade agreements are negotiated and signed by the Union rather than by individual Member States. This allows the EU to speak with a single voice with international partners as it works to promote a free and fairer international trading system.

An expanding union

The EU now counts 28 Members. Since 1957, when the EU's forerunner formed with six countries, the Union has expanded significantly, with the greatest jumps occurring after the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe. The lure of EU membership and the political and economic stability it brings has meant that many countries aspire to join – although they must first pass tough EU membership tests, including on democracy and the rule of law.