Where is the Aristo-Cat (yet again)?

You know: I’m all for discrete diplomacy. It is a fundamental way of doing things when an issue is complexe, requires a bit of horse trading in a corridor or late-night negotiations with bad Chinese take-away and bundles of paper. In such a scenario, the less said, the better, until you reach a deal.

But diplomacy also requires panache to make the interest you represent shine in the limelight from time to time. A bit like climbing a mountain requires sweat and silent suffering but ends with firmly planting that flag at the top for the world to see.

I did not want to react after the lack of visible presence by Baroness Catherine Ashton during the Haïti events. I even constrained myself when she made her “I’m not a fireman or a nurse” remark when asked why she had not gone to Haïti. Hell, I didn’t even care that she went or not: I just wanted her to stand up and say “Europe cares and we’re doing something”. Forcefully. With whistles and bells. On YouTube, the press, the world, twitter, facebook, whatever. But: I thought: she’s new, let us give her time to settle.

Is someone missing from this picture?

Is someone missing from this picture?

Today, it’s Van Rompuy’s first European Council Summit. And guess who’s doing the statement (you can see it here): Barroso, as President of the European Commission; and Van Rompuy, as President of the Council…and that’s it. Now some will say this is done to respond to criticism that Europe does not have  a single face, a single “Who do I call” recipient. Some will also point out that according to the Treaty, the European Council only comprises “Heads of State and government”: but since when is Barroso a Head of State? Moreover art 15 (3) of the Lisbon Treaty state states that “The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy participates in the meetings”…

I think it’s just disappointing, yet again. There is a thin line between discretion and dilution in the background: Baroness Catherine Ashton should watch out she does not cross it.

The only positive note in my eyes is the fact that the Spanish rotating Presidency did not appear, because I find that system of a permanent President and a rotating Member State Presidency the real source of confusion when looking at the EU from the outside!

But let me finish on a lighter tone by quoting the Walt Disney movie, “The Aristocats”, having decided that maybe “Aristo-Cat” was becoming a fitting nickname for the Baroness:

Berlioz the Kitten: We were just practicing biting and clawing.
Duchess: Aristocats do not practice biting and clawing, and things like that. It’s just horrible.
Toulouse the Orange Kitten: But someday, we might meet a tough alley cat.


  1. Lino, I think you should have quoted the full article 15 (2) of the Treaty on European Union:

    “The European Council shall consist of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, together with its President and the President of the Commission. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall take part in its work.”

    According to that article, the President of the European Council and the President of the Commission are both part of the European Council, while Ashton just takes part in the work, which means she is no part of the European Council. So Barroso and van Rompuy are on equal footing when it comes to European Council meetings while Ashton is legally and diplomatically below that level.

    So it seems to me that, diplomatically, somebody who is just there to work is not there to represent anything, and while Barroso and van Rompuy are both kind of neutral members of the Council (since they have no vote) able to present results for the outside world.

  2. Hi Julien

    Thorough as always, a quality I do not claim to share. I believe the Treaty is drafted in such a manner that it leaves quite some leeway when it comes to its interpretation. The “part of the Council” Vs “take part in the work” argument looks like semantics to me and do not refrain Ashton from being present (they don’t mandate it either, I fully agree there). I consider that occasion after occasion, she shines by her absence and regret it.

  3. I actually think that the Treaty is drafted in a way that the legal and diplomatic services understand quite well who will stand in the light at what time, it’s just not clear for those of us who did not participated in the behind-closed-doors bargaining.

    In other words: They who made the final version(s) of the Treaties didn’t want(ed) Ashton to stand in the camera lights. I don’t think she is to blame (this time).

  4. I am not blaming her specifically for this but rather blaming the whole choreography orchestrated over the last months that is thoroughly disappointing, and which she seems to accept dutifully. I saw more of Solana in the past than I have done of Ashton so far, and feel this is a deliberate and worrying strategy.

  5. Sorry to hear you constrained yourself Lino: you rhinoceroses need to be careful…hope you’re better now.

    I imagine if a foreign policy issue dominated the summit (not the case yesterday) the HR would be more visible.

    What is perhaps more worrying is whether another quotation from the film, “Ladies don’t start fights, but they can finish them!”, will ever be apt to describe the HR in action. I fear though that political ennobling does not change the colour of a person’s blood.

  6. Always nice to read you Hugh, especially as I see we share common cinematographic tastes! On constraining myself: how do you think i turned blue? :)
    I appreciate your eternal optimistic view and wish I could share it, on this one….

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