The Barren Baroness
Its dirty work but Â it pays like no other: Bruce Bawer took it upon himself to expose the excremental EUrocritter Catherine Ashton, who personifies everything that’s wrong with the EU.
For four years, she’s been a walking – or, rather, ubiquitously chauffeur-driven – joke, the very personification of pretty much everything that’s wrong with the European Union. Bearing an absurdly pretentious title – High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (she’s also Vice-President of the European Commission) – she presides over a grotesquely bloated international bureaucracy that’s based in 139 fancy installations (officially denominated “embassies”) around the world and that costs European taxpayers a total of nearly $700 million a year. At least fifty of her several thousand underlings draw larger salaries than the British Prime Minister, while the lady herself, Catherine Ashton – more casually known as Cathy Ashton, and more formally as Baroness Ashton of Upholland – boasts a bigger salary than any other female politician on earth, with the sole exception (since 2011) of Christine Lagarde, head of IMF, who pulls in just a few thousand more clams per annum than Ashton does. It’s good to be the queen.
Of what, precisely, you may ask, is Ashton queen? She runs something called the European External Action Service (or EEAS), which was created by the 2007 Lisbon Treaty (originally known, you’ll recall, as the EU Constitution), and which is the EU’s fledgling effort at having its own counterpart to the British Foreign Service or U.S. State Department. In other words, bluntly speaking, it’s a power grab – an attempt by the EU to grasp the reins of foreign policy from its member states. Its activities along these lines led British Foreign Secretary William Hague to warn his embassies to be on guard for EU “mission creep.”
Fortunately, Ashton, in addition to being a world-class squanderer of taxpayer money, has also proven to be supremely incompetent at her job. She’s been called “lackluster,” “uninspiring,” “amateurish,” “Baroness Nobody,” and “a virtual laughingstock,” and has been described as an “unelected and supremely under-qualified Eurocrat” who “lacks the experience, skills and vision the role demands,” who “has little impact on the ground,” who “has little to show for her time in the job, despite clocking up an impressive number of air miles,” and who “is more suited to run a parish council than a major European institution.”
A recent article about her in the British conservative monthly Standpoint bore the headline: “The diplomat the whole world ignores.” Her subordinates, one official told the article’s author, Ian Birrell, are supposed “to be dealing with pressing international problems,” but instead they “sit around desperately trying to think up ways of making an impact.” Not too surprisingly, virtually the only high-profile journalist who’s praised Ashton lavishly in print, as far as I can discover, is perennial Newsweek hack and sometime McLaughlin Group fixture Eleanor Clift, that past master of unblushing left-wing spin.
How did such a non-entity as Cathy Ashton – who speaks no foreign languages, who has never run for an elective office, who has nothing more to show for herself educationally than a bachelor’s degree in sociology from a college you never heard of, and who at the time of her appointment possessed exactly zero foreign-policy experience – land such a cushy job? Easy: by being a reliable lockstep soldier of the British left. Born into a working-class family in Lancashire, Ashton spent several years in the late 1970s serving as treasurer for the thoroughly detestable Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), after which, in turn, she found work at various local levels as an affirmative-action bureaucrat, a health-care bureaucrat, and a family-policy bureaucrat.
Somewhere around this time she met and became pals with Tony and Cherie Blair. “Ordinarily,” observed Joel J. Sprayregen of the American Thinker last year, “a politician in this orbit would stand for election to the House of Commons. I can only surmise that Labor elders found Ashton so personally unlikable (forgive me) and inclined to inserting her foot in her mouth that she could not be elected even to a safe seat.” So Tony, in 1999, made her a baroness, after which she was handed high-level jobs in the education and trade bureaucracies before being selected for her current sinecure – for which her very nullity, apparently, was viewed as a plus, given the hostility of the EU’s weightier members toward the superstate’s foreign-policy ambitions.
Shortly after Ashton was named to her current post, Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party stood up in the European Parliament to request an investigation of her career at the CND. Back when Ashton was active in the organization, after all, it was funded largely by Moscow, and was widely regarded as nothing less than a Soviet front. Indeed, Duncan Rees, with whom Ashton lived for three years during her CND stint, was, at the time of their relationship, simultaneously the CND’s secretary general and a high-ranking British Communist Party operative.
Farage wasn’t alone in his concern about Ashton’s checkered past. The Economist, no less, weighed in at length, noting that the CND, back in the day, had proffered “the false dichotomy of ‘better Red than dead’” and had “never recognized the USSR as an expansionist power” – thus making itself an effective tool in the Kremlin’s effort to “undermin[e] the unity of NATO, weake[n] the West’s defence posture and stok[e] anti-Americanism.” Arguing forcefully that Ashton’s “peacenik past” merited “scrutiny,” the Economist invited readers to “[i]magine a 1980s Europe where CND had triumphed, with left-wing governments in Britain and Germany scrapping NATO, surrendering to Kremlin pressure and propping up the evil empire. Her opponents complain that Lady Ashton is ineffective. As a CND organiser, that may have been a blessing.”
All completely true, of course. Yet the person who got in trouble with the EU on account of Ashton’s disgraceful past was not the Baroness herself but Farage, who, after bringing it up, was called in on the carpet by the president of the European Parliament and ordered to “restrain his language and refrain from making improper comments in the chamber” or face disciplinary action.
For all her incompetence, Ashton has managed to do some real mischief during her tenure. For one thing, she’s taken advantage of every opportunity to eulogize Islam while kicking Israel in the teeth. (As Caroline Glick wrote here last year, Ashton “is so ill-disposed against Israel that she seems unable to focus for long on anything other than bashing it.”) In her maiden speech to the European Parliament, Ashton condemned Israel’s separation barrier but neglected to acknowledge the reality of Palestinian terrorism. The first of her innumerable job-related trips was to Cairo, where in a speech to the Arab League she fatuously declared that “Europe and the Arab world share a common history and a common destiny.”
She’s stuck to that inane template ever since. When the Palestinian Authority postponed local elections in 2011, Ashton – who had spent much of the previous two years castigating Israel – said nothing. Last September, she responded to the film The Innocence of Muslims by joining leaders of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League, and the African Union in issuing a statement that – as one critic put it – “simultaneously succeeds in recognising freedom of speech, while at the same time distancing itself from it.” To top it all off, when Jewish children were massacred in Toulouse last year, Ashton found a way to yoke these savage murders to the deaths of Palestinian children in Israeli attacks on Gaza. Israel demanded her resignation.
Well, she’ll be out of the job soon enough: her term is scheduled to end a year from now, and she’s made it clear that she has no intention of trying to stay on – the workload, she’s said with a straight face, is just too much. But don’t worry: the big checks won’t stop. Under a typically harebrained EU policy, during the three years after she leaves office she’ll be receiving a generous percentage of her current salary in exchange for doing absolutely nothing. Of course, since she’s been doing almost nothing ever since her ascendancy into the EU stratosphere, this will actually be something of a savings. The thing to worry about is the person – whoever it may end up being – who takes over from her as High Representative for Foreign Affairs. After having such a cipher in the position for five years, the EU honchos may actually decide to pass it on to somebody who’s actually capable of, and interested in, doing something. And that’s when the real trouble will start.