Ashton to Step Down as EU Trade Commissioner on 1 Dec

25 November 2009

The European Union will be getting a new trade commissioner fewer than 14 months after Catherine Ashton was appointed to the post.

Lord Baronness Catherine Ashton of Upholland, formerly head of the UK's House of Lords, has grabbed headlines around the world since it was announced on 19 November that she has been chosen to become the European Union's first ‘High Representative of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy'.

Lutz Guellner, a spokesman for the EU Trade Commission's office, said that Ashton will likely step down as trade commissioner as of 1 December, although she will probably not be officially confirmed in her new post until early 2010. In the meantime, she will serve as the EU's ‘acting' foreign affairs representative, Guellner added.

Guellner could not confirm whether Ashton will participate in next week's WTO ministerial conference, although he said it was "very likely" that she would be in attendance on the first day of the meeting, 30 November, when she will still be officially in her post. Beyond that, he could not say for sure, but stressed that the EU would be represented "at the commissioner level" throughout the three-day meeting.

Ashton was appointed to the EU's top trade post in October 2008 when the previous trade commissioner, the UK's Peter Mandelson, was called back to London to serve as a member of the cabinet of Prime Minister Gordon Brown (see Bridges Weekly, 9 October 2008, https://www.ictsd.org/bridges-news/bridges/issue-archive/mandelson-steps-down-as-eu-trade-rep).  At the time, Ashton, who had virtually no experience on trade issues, was criticised by some as under-qualified for the job. Since then, however, she has reportedly proven herself among her colleagues.

"I have had the great privilege and pleasure to work with Commissioner Ashton on a number of important multilateral and bilateral trade issues over the past year, and I can say from my numerous exchanges with her that she possesses formidable intelligence, vision, compassion, and charm," United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement. Her appointment to the EU's top foreign policy post "is good news both for Europe and the United States," he said.

Who is to succeed Ashton has not yet been decided, but the process to fill her post is underway. Earlier this week, the last EU member states submitted their commissioner nominations to the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. Barroso, who has to fill more than two dozen posts in the executive arm of the European Union, is expected to announce a potential new line-up of commissioners early next week. Those appointments must then be approved by the European Parliament, which will begin hearings on the matter in January.

ICTSD reporting; "Barroso vows to resist jockeying for jobs," THE FINANCIAL TIMES, 25 November 2009.

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