Catherine Ashton

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and European Commission Vice-President

(BBC - 06/12/10; EurActiv - 03/12/09; New Europe - 02/12/09; new Europe - 26/11/09; Reuters, BBC, Telegraph, EurActiv - 20/11/09; Guardian, Swedish EU Presidency - 19/11/09; EU, European Parliament)

British politician Catherine Ashton stepped into office as EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on December 1st 2009, the date of entry into force of the Union's Lisbon Treaty.

She was appointed to one of the two top posts created under the pact during an informal summit of the leaders of the 27-nation bloc on November 19th the same year.

Born on March 20th 1956 in Upholland, the UK, Ashton holds a degree in economics from London University.

After serving for six years as vice-chairman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, in 1983, she headed Business in the Community, an organisation focusing on domestic British politics. She left that post in 1989 to work as a freelance policy adviser.

A member of the Labour Party, she was made a life member of the upper house of the British Parliament in 1999, at then-Prime Minister Tony Blair's request.

From 2001 to 2006, Ashton served as minister in the department for education and skills, the department for constitutional affairs and subsequently the justice ministry. She then became a privy councillor in May 2006, before being appointed as Leader of the House of Lords.

In October 2008, Ashton joined the European Commission (EC), replacing Britain's Peter Mandelson as the EU trade commissioner.

Following her appointment as EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, she automatically became EC vice-president designate as well, under the Lisbon Treaty.

"Working with both the [European] Council and the Commission will be a challenge, and being the first person ever to hold this post will be a challenge," she said.

Ashton is married and has two children.

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