Female envoys toast woman in top EU job

New EU foreign minister – Baroness Ashton

Women diplomats in London are celebrating the surprise appointment of Britain’s Baroness Ashton as the EU’s High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy.

As leaders gathered to appoint the EU’s first president and foreign minister, the Women in Diplomatic Service, the professional association for women diplomats in London, threw its weight behind a campaign calling for a woman to be appointed to one of the top jobs in Europe.

Baroness Ashton will be joining Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy, who was named as Europe’s first president of the European Council.

End of ‘jobs for boys’

The WDS issued a statement, saying: “The EU should practise what it preaches and seriously consider nominations from senior female contenders with the real prospect of having a woman as President or high representative. The time is right to move away from the ‘jobs for the boys’ policy.”

The appeal echoed the sentiments of a joint letter sent to the Financial Times by Margot Wallström, Vice-President, European Commission, Diana Wallis, Vice-President, European Parliament, and Neelie Kroes, European competition commissioner, urging EU leaders to select a woman for one of the top posts.

A ‘compromise candidate’

In a poll conducted by Embassy, London’s women diplomats agreed that it was desirable for the EU to have a woman in a powerful position, although 50 per cent said it was “quite” or “highly unlikely” that a woman would be appointed president. But some predicted correctly that a woman may make a useful compromise candidate. As one deputy ambassador said: “If the male clubs clash, there is quite a likelihood of a female appointement.”

Baroness Ashton emerged as a candidate after Tony Blair’s candidacy for the European Council presidency was quashed.

The former leader of the House of Lords and current EU Trade Commissioner admitted to being taken aback by the appointment, but vowed to pursue a policy of “quiet diplomacy”.

The new president, the poetry-writing Mr Van Rompuy, also pledged “to listen carefully to everyone”.

While the low-key duo are unlikely to “stop the traffic”, the combination provides the EU with a balance between left and right, a large and small state, and includes the much-needed gender balance.