Page last updated at 15:31 GMT, Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Ashton pledges to be independent in new EU role

Baroness Ashton
Baroness Ashton said she would try to do her best in the role

Baroness Ashton has said she will be a strong voice for the EU in foreign policy and not an "extension of the British government".

Appearing before MEPs, she defended her appointment as EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, saying she had the "necessary qualities" to do the job.

She also faced questions about CND's links with communist countries when she was its treasurer in the early 1980s.

She said she had never taken any "direct money" from a communist state.

'United voice'

The Labour peer, previously the EU's Trade Commissioner, was chosen for the post by the heads of the 27 member states in a decision which took many in Europe and the UK by surprise.

Her appointment came after UK prime minister Gordon Brown gave up his campaign to have Tony Blair selected as the first permanent president of the EU Council.

I won't be an extension of the British government. I have been appointed by the 27 member states
Baroness Ashton

In her first appearance before the European Parliament since her nomination, Baroness Ashton said she had the appropriate skills and experience to do the job.

Outlining her vision, Baroness Ashton said the EU needed to speak with a "clear, united voice" and she would listen as well as talk.

"We have a strong reputation in the world based on the values our 27 member states hold dear," she said.

"We already speak with clarity and conviction on the major challenges that face us.

"We need to do more so that we are able to punch our weight politically."

Amid concerns about her low-profile on the world stage, Baroness Ashton said she would "faithfully reflect" the views of all member states and not be beholden to any single country.

"I won't be an extension of the British government. I have been appointed by the 27 member states."

She shrugged off suggestions from Tory MEP Charles Tannock that she was less qualified for the post than several MEPs who were ex-foreign ministers, saying she had been asked to do the job by the EU's 27 member states.

"I may not be your choice but I appear to be theirs," she told him.

But she acknowledged she did not yet have a budget or staff and details of "considered" policies would have to wait until January.

CND questions

Baroness Ashton was asked about her role in fundraising for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament when she was its treasurer in the early 1980s.

UKIP MEP David Campbell Bannerman said an audit of CND's accounts in 1983 had found nearly 40% of its funds could not be traced to their original donors and it declined to say where the money came from.

He asked Baroness Ashton to confirm she had never accepted money from client states of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party of Great Britain or other communist sympathisers, saying EU states who had suffered under communist rule deserved a "clear answer".

Baroness Ashton said she had ordered the first-ever audit of CND's accounts during her time there.

"I did not take any direct money from any communist country," she said.

'Shoulder-to-shoulder'

She told the MEP that 38% of funds raised in 1983 had not been audited "because it was collected in buckets on demonstrations and on street corners as people marched".

"So if I can't tell you where all the money that came in the buckets came from I don't think you will be surprised."

She added: "CND was an organisation that democratically marched for what it believed in. One of the great joys of being young is the ability to march for things for at that time were incredibly important and remain so."

Asked about key relationships with major powers, Baroness Ashton said the EU would stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the US on many issues.

On Afghanistan, she said the EU was keen to work "closely and effectively" with the US and that it could continue to "add value" to the international mission through functions such as training.

She also called for a continuing "dialogue" with Russia about issues including human rights, the rule of law and energy security.

Baroness Ashton is to meet several EU heads of government in Madrid on Tuesday before talks with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on Friday.



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