EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said yesterday (18 March) she would step down when her term expires at the end of 2014, BBC reported. Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who was appointed for the top job together with Ashton in November 2009, also announced that he would retire from politics.
Speaking to the German Marshall Fund on 16 March, Ashton, said: "There's no possibility of having a second term and it needs to go to someone else next … In any event, you lay the foundations but there are people who can do things with this that probably I couldn't do, so it'll be good to hand it over."
Both the positions of Van Rompuy and Ashton are renewable. By a decision dated 1 December 2009, EU leaders elected Van Rompuy as president of the European Council for two and half years on 1 December 2009 and in May 2012 his mandate was extended until 1 December 2014.
Ashton was appointed as high representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the period from 1 December 2009 until the end of the current term of office of the Commission in 2014.
The first Council president was expected to "set the job description" for future office holders. Van Rompuy’s style has been characterised by discretion. Due to the vague language of the Lisbon Treaty, it has never been clear if Van Rompuy of the Commission President José Manuel Barros takes precedence. On various public events, both have been represented, which was seen by critics as redundancy.
Regarding Ashton, she will be remembered for putting in place the European External Action Service (EEAS). According to the Lisbon Treaty, the EEAS is independent from other institutions, although its head is also Commission vice president.
Ashton, a UK Labour peer, suffered from bad press, especially from her native Britain, as well as from attacks from European political circles who claimed that she didn’t prioritise correctly her actions and presence to important events.