Quiet Diplomacy Will Boost EU

Quiet Diplomacy Will Boost EU

Less than a month ago the 27 heads of government of the European Union chose me to be the first High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, a role created by the Lisbon treaty. The treaty gives us new possibilities to make Europe better and more relevant for its citizens. It can also help us find a stronger and more coherent voice on the world stage.

The reputation of the EU in the world is a good one, based on our strong values of freedom and democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. We already speak with conviction and clarity on the major challenges that face us, be they climate change, or fighting poverty, conflict or terrorism.

We have put boots on the ground with successful civilian and military missions on four different continents. We are the biggest provider of humanitarian aid and project funding. We are also a superpower economy made up of half a billion people.

Still, we remain accused of not punching our weight politically. My job is to make our voice stronger and more unified, in my dual role as chair of the meeting of foreign ministers and Vice-President of the European Commission.

I will draw strength from both of these roles, taking my authority to negotiate from the EU member states, and using the resources and instruments that the European Commission has.

I believe that a lot can be achieved with quiet diplomacy. We need people who can listen as well as talk, and who can work behind the scenes as well as in the glare of the spotlight. What we also need is concerted action to achieve our goals.

My first priority will be to build the new diplomatic service that the Lisbon treaty foresees. The European External Action Service will be based in Brussels, with representations throughout the world. It should be a network that is the pride of Europe and the envy of the rest of the world, with the most talented people from all member states of the EU working in our common interest.

It should offer our citizens added value to what their countries already do, and give our partners around the world a trusted and reliable ally on European issues. It should be a foreign service for the 21st century.

The EU must pull its weight in areas of crisis and conflict. This is the responsibility of a global actor, but is also sound policy for the security of Europe.

My objective is to enhance co-operation, to use the various crisis-management tools we already have and develop them and our civilian and military capabilities further in order to get the job done.

We are already playing an important role in the Balkans and the Southern Caucasus. We can act jointly with the United States in the Middle East, building on continuing activity and fostering dialogue. Europe is engaged in Africa, including creating a safe passage for naval vessels threatened by piracy around the Horn of Africa, complemented by vital land-based initiatives.

Europe is committed to Afghanistan, with military presence, but also with training and infrastructure, for instance paying the salaries of more than half the Afghan police force. Together with our partners, we will keep pressure on Iran to meet international obligations on its nuclear programme.

I will seek to reinforce our co-operation with strategic partners such as the United States, China, Russia, India and Brazil, and tap into our tight network of bilateral relations and agreements with other countries across the world. We will use this network and the multilateral system to resolve differences we still have, and tackle the many complex challenges we now face.

These include challenges to our security that are broader than traditional defence issues and that are of great importance for our citizens. For example, we have to deal effectively with environmental degradation and climate change, as well as issues of energy security. We may need to find new approaches to tackle these that involve greater co-operation across borders.

European foreign and security policy is relevant to European citizens, even if the work is by its nature often happening outside our borders. So we must continue to have an open and serious debate within the EU on our foreign policy goals.

I will work with my foreign minister colleagues in the member states as well as with national parliaments and the European Parliament. We must communicate our policy to European citizens, and they in turn should make their voices heard to us.

Throughout my career, I have tried to make actions speak louder than words, and concentrated on getting real-world results that make a difference for citizens and business. I worked to improve healthcare provision by merging hospitals while chairing a local health authority. Social policy and economic regeneration have always been high on my agenda.

I also have a strong record on equality, civil liberty and social justice as a UK minister, including on the Forced Marriages Bill and equality legislation supporting gay rights. As EU Trade Commissioner, I fought against protectionism, and negotiated deals that gave our consumers a better deal and opened new markets for our businesses.

Jean Monnet, one of the fathers of the European Union, once said that everybody is ambitious, but the real question is whether they are ambitious to be or ambitious to do. I for one am ambitious to do, and hope that getting results will be what defines my time as High Representative.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland is High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission



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