|English: Baroness Ashton of Upholland, British politician (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Catherine Ashton, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, PC (born 20 March 1956) is a British Labour politician who in 2009 became the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union. Under the Treaty of Lisbon, this post is combined with the post of Vice-President of the European Commission.
Her political career began in 1999 when she was created a Life Peer (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) by the Labour Government. Under this government she became the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Education and Skills in 2001 and subsequently in the Department for Constitutional Affairs and Ministry of Justice in 2004. She became a Privy Councillor (PC) in May 2006.
Catherine Ashton was appointed Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Queen’s Privy Council in Gordon Brown’s first Cabinet in June 2007. As well as Leader of the Lords, she held responsibility in the House of Lords for equalities issues, and she was instrumental in steering the EU’s Treaty of Lisbon through the UK’s upper chamber. 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 role of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy that was created by the Treaty of Lisbon. As High Representative, Baroness Ashton serves as the EU’s foreign policy chief. 
Catherine Ashton was born in Upholland, Lancashire on 20 March 1956. She comes from a working class family, with a background in coal mining going back generations. She attended Upholland Grammar School in Billinge Higher End, Lancashire, then Wigan Mining and Technical College in Wigan. Ashton graduated with a BSc in Sociology in 1977 from Bedford College, London (now part of Royal Holloway, University of London). She was the first person in her family to attend University.
Early career in the United Kingdom
Between 1977 and 1983 Ashton worked for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) as an administrator and in 1982 was 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. As of 1983 she worked for the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work. 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. For most of the 1990s, she worked as a freelance policy adviser. She chaired the Health Authority inHertfordshire 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, under Prime Minister Tony Blair. In June 2001 she was appointedParliamentary 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.
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. As Leader of the House, she was responsible for passing the Lisbon Treaty through the House of Lords.
EU 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 so, in order to take up her position, she used the procedural device previously used in 1984 by Lord Cockfield and took a leave of absence from the House of Lords on 14 October 2008, retaining her peerage but not her seat.
Her appointment as Trade Commissioner was scrutinised by the European Parliament. She was criticised by Daniel Hannan, a British Conservative MEP, saying 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”. However, following her public confirmation hearing by the Trade Committee of theEuropean Parliament, Ashton was approved by the Parliament on 22 October 2008 with 538 to 40 votes, and 63 abstentions. She has since finished negotiations on the Free Trade Agreement with Korea and initialled it in October 2009.
Responsibilities as High Representative
As High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, a post that was combined with Vice-President of the European Commission, Ashton was elected by the Heads of State and Government of the 27 European Union countries at a summit in Brussels.
Besides representing the EU at international forums and coordinating the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defence Policy, the High Representative also:
- As Vice-President of the European Commission, she participates in the weekly meeting of the European Commission.
- Participates in the meetings of the European Council, where all EU leaders meet.
- Is head of the European External Action Service
- Responsible for the European Union Special Representatives
- President of the Foreign Affairs Council
- President of the European Defence Agency
- Chair of the board of the European Union Institute for Security Studies
During her term in office she and her team have given priority to a number of European and global issues. These include:
- Participation in the Quartet negotiations on the Middle East Peace Process
- Leading European negotiations with Iran over its controversial Nuclear programme
- Responding to the Arab Spring with a new European Neighbourhood Policy (May 2011), to provide funding and market access to North Africa
- Supporting democratic forces in Libya by opening an EU office in Benghazi in May 2011 and supporting the National Transitional Council
- Building a European consensus to establish sanctions against the Assad regime in Syria
- Strengthening relations with the EU’s Strategic Partners such as the US, Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa
- In the Balkans, forging renewed talks between Serbs and Kosovars (“Belgrade-Pristina” dialogue)
- Negotiating an upgraded status for the EU at the UN as foreseen under the Lisbon Treaty
- Establishing the European External Action Service (1 December 2010), which merged the external relations departments of the European Commission, Council of the European Union, and will have diplomats seconded from national foreign services.