In an exclusive interview with the EU’s High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, Europe’s top diplomat talked about what lies ahead.
Catherine Ashton: This is not about creating the 28th member state’s foreign policy, it’s about recognising there are things that we do as 27, speaking the same message, that are more effective in the world. If you are thinking about economic prosperity for citizens, you need better trade deals. Trade deals as 27 [mean] more economic power. If you are thinking about some of the big foreign policy questions – security and stability in the world, the effects of climate change – [by] acting and speaking together we can achieve more, and that’s when Europe comes into its own.
Sergio Cantone, euronews: How would you cope with the diverging positions that we sometimes see among member states?
Ashton: Well, member states of course approach the foreign policy partly from their national interests, and that’s right. When I chair the foreign affairs council, 27 foreign ministers come together, and we come together to talk about issues that worry us, for example the Middle East, Iran, Sudan, what’s happening in Somalia with piracy. All of these things impact on the lives of our citizens. And where we can we reach the agreement of our common positions, and that common position gives us all strength because we speak from it to the world.
euronews: Do you think that diplomacy and foreign policy should be transparent, more transparent?
Ashton: I think you always have to have the capacity to be able to talk privately. I’ve been involved in freedom of information for a great deal of my life and I think it’s very important that the citizens know and understand how decisions are made and what’s happening at government level, but there is always a need to be able to be candid and open in discussions that people have in meetings, or in discussions that people have across the world, because you rely on that genuine candor to help you formulate policies. It doesn’t mean that that’s what people’s views are back home, or it doesn’t mean that’s what you take forward. But it does mean you get a great deal of information. That does matter.
euronews: Are you concerned about the budgetary issue which is striking the EU?
Ashton: In the economic climate we live in, the austerity measures that have to be taken of course need to be reflected in the work of the service. We need to do better. We need to be cost effective. We need to demonstrate value for money, and I’ve made that a big theme of how we go forward. I think we can achieve that, but most importantly make ourselves understood better by the people that we represent.
euronews: What is the most important foreign policy issue for the EU?
Ashton: The most immediate foreign policy issue, rather than most important, is Iran of course, because next week I will be in Geneva meeting with the Iranians, to have the beginning of talks on their nuclear weapons capability. That’s important for me. But if you look across the globe and if you look at it from a perspective of 27 member states, there are different priorities. They all add up to the need to have a strong common agreed policy where we can, in our relationships with Russia, with China, with India, with the United States, and of course for me the great priority is what we are doing in our neigbourhood, how effective we are in supporting countries in our neigbourhood into the future. In a sense, that’s what Europe’s reputation will depend upon.