The European Parliament today (22 October) approved Catherine Ashton as the EU's new trade commissioner, after the British Labour party nominee overcame critics who had questioned her ability to fulfil the role.

Ashton was confirmed with 538 votes in favour, 40 against and 63 abstentions. Two days ago, she gave an assured performance during a three-hour grilling at the European Parliament which dispelled doubts about her alleged lack of competence (EurActiv 21/10/08). 

Senior MEPs including British Conservatives had initially questioned her record on the important trade portfolio she inherited from Peter Mandelson, but they now say they had to recognise her good performance at the hearing. 

"Concerns were initially raised by MEPs from a number of different countries that Baroness Ashton did not have the necessary experience for the important trade portfolio," the Conservatives said in a statement. "However, she performed positively during her hearing in the international trade committee on Monday evening," they added. 

On behalf of the Greens, British MEP Caroline Lucas welcomed the confirmation of the UK's first female commissioner. She also expressed hope that Ashton would be "a far more appropriate commissioner than her predecessor" and move away from "pro-corporate policies". 

Spanish liberal MEP Ignasi Guardans, who is also vice president of the trade committee, praised the performance of Baroness Ashton at the hearing. "The committee had some natural concerns about her lack of direct experience of international commerce or foreign affairs but with such a short time to prepare, she persuaded the committee that she understood the link between trade and the impact on the European small and medium sized business sector and jobs," said Guardans 

Baroness Ashton, who said at the hearing that she preferred to be called 'Cathy', is also the first female commissioner responsible for trade. 

MEP Jens Holm of the group European United Left/Nordic Green Left issued a statement accusing Mandelson of lobbying for BusinessEurope, which he described as "the lobbying organisation of big business in Europe". Holm called on to Ashton to "remove" BusinessEurope from the Commission's Charlemagne premises.