Page last updated at 12:00 GMT, Tuesday, 23 February 2010

EU's pick for ambassador to US queried

New EU ambassador to Washington, Joao Vale de Almeida (pic: European Commission)
Mr De Almeida has landed a much-coveted diplomatic post

Sweden and France have voiced concern over the appointment of the European Commission president's top aide as the new EU ambassador to Washington.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt called the appointment of Joao Vale de Almeida a "downgrade" of the key post.

Mr Bildt also questioned whether the appointment was in line with the Lisbon Treaty, which puts the UK's Baroness Ashton in charge of EU diplomats.

Mr De Almeida has long served as Jose Manuel Barroso's chief of staff.

Both Mr Barroso and Mr De Almeida are Portuguese. The appointment was announced on 17 February.

Demand for transparency

Correspondents say that Mr De Almeida, while a career EU official, lacks the diplomatic profile of his predecessor in Washington, former Irish Prime Minister John Bruton. Mr Bruton left the Washington job last October.

"This nomination has been done without applying the very principles now under discussion... where transparency, member states' involvement and, above all, your role as appointing authority are key elements," Mr Bildt told Baroness Ashton in a letter, quoted by Reuters news agency.

"(The) head of delegation in Washington should be a person with experience from a high political post - for obvious reasons," he added.

Catherine Ashton is EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, a new post created by the Lisbon Treaty. She will head the new European External Action Service, which is currently being set up.

France's European Affairs Minister Pierre Lellouche said he had asked Baroness Ashton for clarification about the new appointment.

"From now on we need the treaty and nothing but the treaty to be applied," and the member states consulted, he told reporters.

Baroness Ashton admitted that "two or three member states" would like to have been more involved in the appointment.

But she defended the appointment, saying "the feedback from Washington shows that they are delighted".

In this case the post had to be filled quickly, she said, and in future the member states would be more involved in such appointments.

As a vice-president of the Commission and a former trade commissioner Baroness Ashton faces the challenge of proving that she is acting independently of Mr Barroso.

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