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The Right Honourable
 The Baroness Ashton of Upholland 

Assumed office 
1 December 2009
President Herman Van Rompuy
Preceded by Javier Solana (High Representative for CFSP)
Benita Ferrero-Waldner (Commissioner for External Relations)

Assumed office 
9 February 2010
President José Manuel Barroso
Preceded by Margot Wallström

In office
3 October 2008 – 1 December 2009
President José Manuel Barroso
Preceded by Peter Mandelson
Succeeded by Benita Ferrero-Waldner

In office
27 June 2007 – 3 October 2008
Prime Minister Gordon Brown
Preceded by The Baroness Amos
Succeeded by The Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Born 20 March 1956 (1956-03-20) (age 53)
Upholland, United Kingdom
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Peter Kellner (1988–present)
Residence St Albans, United Kingdom
Alma mater Bedford College

Catherine Margaret Ashton, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, PC (born 20 March 1956) is a British politician who has been the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union (EU) since 1 December 2009 when the post was created.[1] She is also the First-Vice-President of the European Commission (since February 2010).[2]

A British Labour politician, Ashton was made a life peer in 1999 by the Labour government and held junior ministerial appointments in three government departments. She was later appointed Leader of the House of Lords and, in that role, was instrumental in steering the Lisbon Treaty through Britain's Upper House.[3] In 2008, she succeeded Peter Mandelson as Commissioner for Trade in the European Commission. In December 2009 she became the first person to take on the newly enlarged High Representative role for the EU as created by the Treaty of Lisbon.[1]


Early life

Catherine Ashton was born in Upholland, Lancashire on 20 March 1956.[4][5] She was born to a working class family, with a background in coal mining going back generations.[6][7] She attended Upholland Grammar School in Billinge Higher End, Lancashire, then Wigan Mining and Technical College in Wigan.[8] Ashton graduated with a BSc in sociology in 1977 from Bedford College, London (now part of Royal Holloway, London).[9][10][11] She was the first from her family to attend a university.[6]

Career until 2009


In the United Kingdom

Between 1977 and 1983 Ashton worked for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) as an administrator and in 1982 elected as its national treasurer and subsequently as one of its vice-chairs. From 1979 to 1981 she was Business Manager of The Coverdale Organisation, a management consultancy.[12][13] As of 1983 she worked for the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work.[14] From 1983 to 1989 she was Director of Business in the Community working with business to tackle inequality, and established the Employers' Forum on Disability, Opportunity Now, and the Windsor Fellowship.[citation needed] For most of the 1990s, she worked as a freelance policy adviser.[10][15] She chaired the Health Authority in Hertfordshire from 1998 to 2001, and her children's school governing body, and became a Vice President of the National Council for One Parent Families.

She was made a Labour life peer as Baroness Ashton of Upholland in 1999, at the request of Tony Blair.[citation needed] In June 2001 she was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Education and Skills. In 2002 she was appointed minister for Sure Start in the same department. In September 2004, she was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Department for Constitutional Affairs, with responsibilities including the National Archives and the Public Guardianship Office. Ashton was sworn of the Privy Council in 2006, and became Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the new Ministry of Justice in May 2007.

In 2005 she was voted "Minister of the Year" by The House Magazine and "Peer of the Year" by Channel 4. In 2006 she won the "Politician of the Year" award at the annual Stonewall Awards, awarded to those that have made a positive impact on the lives of British LGBT people.[16]

On 28 June 2007 the new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, appointed her to the Cabinet as Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council.[17] As Leader of the House, she was responsible for passing the Lisbon Treaty through the House of Lords.[18]

In the European Union: Trade Commissioner

On 3 October 2008, she was nominated to replace Peter Mandelson as the UK's European Commissioner in Brussels. European Commissioners may not engage in any other occupation during their term of office, whether gainful or not,[19] so in order to take up her position, she used the procedural device previously used in 1984 by Lord Cockfield[20] and took a leave of absence from the House of Lords on 14 October 2008,[21] retaining her peerage but not her seat.[22]

Her appointment as Trade Commissioner was scrutinised by the European Parliament. She was criticised by Daniel Hannan, a British Conservative MEP, on the basis that she had "no background in trade issues at a time when the EU is engaged in critical negotiations with Canada, Korea and the WTO".[23] However, following her public confirmation hearing by the Trade Committee of the European Parliament, Ashton was approved by the Parliament on 22 October 2008 with 538 to 40 votes, and 63 abstentions.[24] She has since finished negotiations on the Free Trade Agreement with Korea and initialled it in October 2009.[25]

Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs

On 19 November 2009, Ashton was appointed the EU's first High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Her appointment was agreed by a summit of 27 European Union leaders in Brussels. After actively pushing for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to become President of the European Council, Gordon Brown eventually relented on the condition that the High Representative position was awarded to a Briton.[26][27]

In her new role, Ashton has a starting salary of £328,000 a year,[28] making her the highest paid British politician, and the highest paid female politician in the world. She is also provided with a chauffeured car, a full housing allowance, expense allowance, and a staff of 20.[29]

Ashton's position also presides over several European institutions, including the European Union Institute for Security Studies as the Chair of its Board.

Ashton's relative obscurity caused considerable comment in the media with The Guardian newspaper reporting that her appointment as High Representative had astonished friends and provoked criticism from others. Former Home Secretary, Charles Clarke said: "Cathy is a bit surprised and so is everyone else. I have seen Cathy in action. I have great respect for her. She is excellent at building good relations with people and a good negotiator."[citation needed] On the other hand, critics say she is likely to be out of her depth, never having been elected to any office. For example, on her appointment, the associate editor of The Spectator, and former editor of BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Rod Liddle, wrote: "Never elected by anyone, anywhere, totally unqualified for almost every job she has done, she has risen to her current position presumably through a combination of down-the-line Stalinist political correctness and the fact that she has the charisma of a caravan site on the Isle of Sheppey."[30] According to one Whitehall source: "Cathy just got lucky...The appointment of her and Herman Van Rompuy [as European Council president] was a complete disgrace. They are no more than garden gnomes."[citation needed] On the other hand, Shami Chakrabarti, the director of a pressure group called Liberty, who became friends with Ashton when she was a minister at the Department of Constitutional Affairs, said her critics were wrong: "People underestimate Cathy at their peril. She is not a great big bruiser. She is a persuader and a charmer. That is the secret of her success."[citation needed] Her friend, Ian McCartney, MP, said on her appointment: "She is a Wigan girl who has really made good... She is supportive of working people and has never forgotten her roots."[31] The morning after her appointment, Ashton told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Over the next few months and years I aim to show that I am the best person for the job. I hope that my particular set of skills will show that in the end I am the best choice."[5]

In February 2010, it emerged that Ashton had been heavily criticised within the EU community for a number of actions, including her failure to visit Haiti in the wake of the earthquake. She was also criticised for allegedly lacking leadership abilities during ministerial meetings and policy briefing. Senior officials within her team complained that she speaks only in "generalities". She was also criticised for a lack of commitment to the job, switching off her phone after 8pm every day.[32]She drew further criticism for the fact that she cannot speak any foreign languages.[33] Ashton has been angered by the criticism, which, according to aides, she argues is a result of the "latent sexism" within the EU community.[34] Ashton came under further criticism, including explicit criticism from national defense ministers Hervé Morin, Carme Chacón, Jack de Vries, and EU minister Pierre Lellouche, for her failure to attend the European Defence Summit in Majorca.[35] Ashton has complained to the press that the lack of resources provided to her, such as her own plane, is holding her back in her work.[36]

Personal life

She lives in St Albans with her husband, Peter Kellner, (whom she married in 1988 in Westminster, London), the President of online polling organisation, YouGov.[37] She has two children, both born in Cambridge: Robert Peter Kellner (born 1989) and Rebecca Clare Kellner (born late 1991 / early 1992)[38] and three stepchildren.[15]

She was awarded an Honorary Degree from the University of East London in 2005.[39]

She has a full-sized Dalek in her sitting room (a present from her husband).[40]

Allegations of covert Soviet support for CND

Ashton faced questions in the European Parliament over her role as national treasurer in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1980s, amid claims that it may have had financial links to the Soviet Union.

The United Kingdom Independence Party has written to Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, asking him to investigate whether Ashton was party to payments that he alleged were made to CND from the Soviet regime in Moscow. UKIP claims that it has obtained documents that show that the first audited accounts of CND, for 1982-83, found that 38 per cent of its income for that year, or £176,197, could not be traced back to the original donors. The person responsible for this part of CND fund-raising, from anonymous donors, they allege, was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The letter, based on allegations made by Vladimir Bukovsky, a former Soviet dissident, claimed that it is “very likely” that CND received “unidentified income” from Moscow in the 1980s.[41][42]

Ashton’s office declined to discuss CND’s funding in detail. It said that she “left CND in 1983 and had no involvement after that”.

Nigel Farage, the UK Independence Party’s then leader and Member of the European Parliament, was reprimanded by the President of the Parliament for the tone of his speech in the European Parliament in which he asked whether Mr Barroso would investigate whether Ashton had received money “from enemies of the West” [43].

The same allegations of “funds from Moscow” were made against CND in the late 1970s.[44] Despite intelligence service penetration of CND,[45] no evidence was ever produced to support the illicit funding claim. Speaking to the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee (where she was questioned on the “funds from Moscow” story), Ashton noted that she had been responsible for arranging (for the first time) an audit of CND's accounts. In her recollection (after nearly 30 years), the money that could not be attributed was from thousands of small individual donations to collecting buckets.[46] Her recollection was supported by a colleague at the time.[47]


  1. ^ a b "Baroness Ashton appointed as EU's foreign policy chief". BBC News. 19 November 2009. Retrieved 25 November 2009. 
  2. ^ Mahony, Honor (9 February 2010) EU votes in new commission after long delay, EU Observer
  3. ^ Profile: Baroness Ashton, EU's new foreign ministerDaily Telegraph, Bruno Waterfield in Brussels Published: 6:30AM GMT 20 November 2009
  4. ^ EU Trade Commisioner Catherine Ashton EU Commission (official website)
  5. ^ a b Lady Ashton: Principled, charming ... or just plain lucky Nicholas Watt, Brussels,, Friday 20 November 2009 19.58 GMT
  6. ^ a b La discréte Lady Europe, Le Monde, Marion Van Renterghem, Jeudi 10 décembre
  7. ^ PROFILE: Catherine AshtonThe Sunday Times, March 14, 2010
  8. ^ Who's Who
  9. ^ Davie, Edward; Catherine Ashton (15 October 2007). "Baroness of the barricades". The House Magazine (Archived). Retrieved 22 November 2009. 
  10. ^ a b Dept of Politics & International Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London, "Movers and Shakers among the Department's former students" Accessed 19 November 2009 (archived by WebCite® at WebCitation)
  11. ^ Development & Alumni Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London, "Alumni in the Media" Accessed: 19 November 2009 (archived by WebCite® at WebCitation)
  12. ^ The Baroness Ashton of Upholland, PC Debretts entry
  13. ^ Brunsden, Jim (3 October 2008). "New EU Commissioner Named". Retrieved 22 November 2009. 
  14. ^ John Minnion and Philip Bolsover (eds.) The CND Story, Alison and Busby, 1983, ISBN 0 85031 487 9
  15. ^ a b BBC News profile, updated 19 Nov 2009
  16. ^ "Gay rights advocate Cathy Ashton is new EU foreign affairs chief". 20 November 2009. Retrieved 21 November 2009. 
  17. ^ "New Cabinet appointments". 28 June 2007. Retrieved 22 October 2008. 
  18. ^ Profile: Baroness Ashton, EU's new foreign minister, Daily Telegraph, Bruno Waterfield in Brussels, 20 November 2009
  19. ^ Under Article 213 of the Treaty establishing the European Community as amended: Rome Treaty (TEC): PART IV Title I Chapter 1 Section 3: The Commission, Articles 211 to 219
  20. ^ Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, House of Common Debates volume 69 column 493W (12 December 1984) HANSARD
  21. ^ Lords Hansard text for 14 Oct 2008 (pt 13)
  22. ^ European Parliament Focus briefing "Ashton backs Doha rescue in Q&A with MEPs"
  23. ^ Hannan, Daniel (10 October 2008). "Why I shall be voting against Peter Mandelson's replacement". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 22 October 2008. 
  24. ^ "European Parliament approves new EU trade chief". People's Daily Online. 22 October 2008. Retrieved 22 October 2008. 
  25. ^ Castle, Stephen (10 October 2008). "Europe and South Korea Sign Trade Pact". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 October 2009. 
  26. ^ "Belgian PM named as EU president". BBC News. 19 October 2009. 
  27. ^ "UK drops Blair, picks Ashton for EU role". Yahoo News. 19 October 2009. 
  28. ^ PROFILE: Catherine AshtonThe Sunday Times, March 14, 2010
  29. ^ Baroness AshtonJonathan Oliver, Isabel Oakeshott and Bojan Pancevski, The Sunday Times, November 22, 2009
  30. ^ A charisma free zone, The Spectator Rod Liddle, Saturday, 21 November 2009
  31. ^ Wigan Evening Post Baroness Cathy's key role on world stage Wigan Today, 24 November 2009
  32. ^ French 'sexism' blamed for attacks on Baroness AshtonBy Vanessa Mock in Brussels, The Independent, Tuesday, 16 February 2010
  33. ^ [ Britain’s High Representative is letting Europe down badly Lady Ashton does not cut la moutarde]Agnes Poirier From The Times, January 28, 2010
  34. ^ French 'sexism' blamed for attacks on Baroness AshtonBy Vanessa Mock in Brussels, The Independent, Tuesday, 16 February 2010
  35. ^ Baroness Ashton under fire for missing European defence summitThe Times, February 26, 2010, David Charter and Graham Keeley
  36. ^ Ashton throws down the gauntlet over Gaza trip by Andrew Rettman, 08.03.2010. Retrieved 09.03.2010
  37. ^ "Person Page – 12633". 9 May 2006. Retrieved 22 October 2008. 
  38. ^ Marriages and Births England and Wales 1984-2006
  39. ^ "UEL Alumni Newsletter". 
  40. ^ "FT Article". 
  41. ^ "Baroness Ashton questioned over CND and Soviet money", The Daily Telegraph, 25 November 2009
  42. ^ "Better red than dead?" The Economist, 26 November 2009
  43. ^ "Nigel Farage reprimanded for criticising Baroness Ashton", Youtube 25 November 2009
  44. ^ Ashton faces accusations ahead of Parliament hearing. UKIP accusations 'laughable', says former colleague - EurActiv. "Smith (a colleague of Ashton's at the time) noted that he was involved in a legal case over this same issue when the British Federation of Conservative Students made serious enough allegations about Soviet funding of the CND for him to sue for libel."
  45. ^ Business of the House (of Commons) Hansard HC Deb 24 July 1986 vol 102 cc693-712 Dale Campbell-Savours, in a reply to a question, acknowledges that MI5 officer Catherine Massiter had been assigned to gather intelligence in CND
  46. ^ EU's new High Representative Catherine Ashton Says That She Would Help Europe “Punch Its Weight” Politically eGov Monitor
  47. ^ Ashton faces accusations ahead of Parliament hearing. UKIP accusations 'laughable', says former colleague - EurActiv. 'Speaking to EurActiv from London, Smith said UKIP's accusation that the CND was "notoriously secretive about its sources of funding" is misguided, given that a large proportion of the NGO's revenue came from small donations at outdoor demonstrations across Europe in the 1980s. The accumulation of such small cash donations is impossible to trace, he said.' (EurActiv)

External links

Offices held

Political offices
Preceded by
The Baroness Amos
Leader of the House of Lords
Succeeded by
The Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
Lord President of the Council
Preceded by
Peter Mandelson
European Commissioner for Trade
Succeeded by
Benita Ferrero-Waldner
European Commissioner from the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Javier Solana
as High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy
High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Preceded by
Benita Ferrero-Waldner
as European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy
Preceded by
Margot Wallström
First Vice President of the European Commission


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