MEPs gave Britain’s Catherine Ashton lukewarm support for her nomination as the EU’s new foreign affairs chief when the European parliament began its confirmation hearings.
Although she has already been approved by all 27 government leaders, on Monday it was the turn of MEPs to assess her qualifications.
French MEP Jean-Luc Mélenchon was less than impressed: “What struck me was that she was unable to answer my questions – I asked what she thought of pushing forward on a transatlantic market and she answered that she had never heard of it. And when I asked her what were the goals of the war in Afghanistan and if she could identify our enemies, she answered that it was necessary to increase our efforts with regards to the population.”
Ashton has already received a provisional thumbs up – but not everyone was happy.
Willam Legge, Earl of Dartmouth of UKIP, said: “Ashton is not up to the job and brings a heavy bias, and a heavy anti-American bias, as well. And the fact of the matter is, there are 27 different member-states and 27 different national interests, and these national interests cannot be suppressed under one so-called High Representative.”
Three others also had their grilling. Finland’s Olli Rehn was one. He is the nominee for economic and monetary affairs – a sensitive post as Europe’s economies struggle to revive growth.
Latvia’s Andris Pieblags fielded questions for the EU development portfolio – in particular climate change and EU policy regarding poorer countries.
While Poland’s Janusz Lewandowski was given an easy ride by the European Parliament’s budget committee, perhaps unsurprisingly since he was its chairman for two years.
A vote on the whole Commission is set for January 26.