EU’s Catherine Ashton asserts Europe’s responsibility for a robust foreign policy

The Europe Center was pleased to host Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission (HRVP), at Stanford University on May 7th.  HRVP Ashton’s address to a capacity audience of Stanford senior scholars is part of the Europe Center’s program focused on European and EU regional and global relations.  The event co-sponsors - the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, the Hoover Institution, and the  - speaks to the esteem and the interest that multiple partners share in engaging the European Union’s highest foreign policy official.

The Europe Center’s director Amir Eshel opened the session, followed by President Gerhard Casper, director and senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, who delivered a formal introduction of Ashton.  HRVP Ashton spoke at length and in considerable detail on the mission of the office of EU High Representative, and addressed a number of the critical foreign policy challenges that we face today. 

Three pillars of EU foreign policy
In her talk, Lady Ashton highlighted three pillars of EU foreign policy:

  1. Europe assumes primary responsibility for bringing and safeguarding peace in its “neighborhood”.  Ashton proposed that the European Union – in terms of its status as a foreign policy actor – should be judged by the record of its mission to foster post-conflict resolution, and promote long-term stability and growth throughout its own member states, and in neighboring regions of North Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, and Eastern and Baltic regions of former Soviet societies.
  2. European Union foreign policy should promote what Ashton termed “Deep Democracy”.  This includes reformed and transparent judiciary, police, and representative governing institutions that safeguard the well-being and individual emancipation of citizens, and women’s and human rights.
  3. European Union international relations prioritize effective and long-term cooperative missions with “strategic partners” beginning with the United States, as well as Russia and China.  Ashton emphasized that the EU also prioritizes long-term relations and strategic missions with regional and supra-national institutions beginning with the United Nations, and including the African Union, ASEAN, and the Arab League.

“Deep Democracy”: the long-term challenge
Of special note was Ashton’s significant elaboration on the priority for “deep democracy”.  When asked about the case of Mali, and what the vision was for what comes after the current French and European military intervention, she emphasized the following points of policy and tactics.

  • The EU views the military engagement against Jihadist forces in Mali, within a larger regional view of the “Sahel Arc”.  The EU is deeply engaged in the “Arab Awakening” movements – and the attendant security, political, and civil crises in each country of the region, and in terms of displaced populations across borders. 
  • In the case of Mali, the office of the EU High Representative invited the country’s leadership to Brussels for close coordination of policy. 
  • The EU foreign policy has been set to closely support the Malian government’s own road map for peace, territorial sovereignty, internal cohesion, and development.
  • In remote districts of northern Mali, residents have seen little evidence of the value of government.  The EU foreign policy of engagement in Mali includes programs to deliver primary health care (i.e. immunization and women’s reproductive health) and infrastructure (i.e. transportation and employment in local economic initiatives) to demonstrate the efficacy and value of state institutions.
  • The decision to commit troops from Europe to foreign soil remains, Ashton emphatically stated, the responsibility of the individual sovereign states, and of their democratically elected representatives who, in making such commitments, are ultimately responsible to their citizens.
  • Individual European nations are invited to meet with the governments and civil society leaders of countries undergoing transformations, to tell their distinct histories of democratic development.

Ashton delivered her insights in response to questions from the audience on a number of topics, including the growing magnitude of displaced regional refugees, EU-US military cooperation, and the support and criticism of the EU within European nations.  

Please visit the European Union website to learn more about HRVP Catherine Ashton.