, BRUSSELS, May 4 – European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton faced sharp criticism Wednesday of her performance by Belgium\’s foreign minister, in the first such public criticism by a senior partner.
Voicing frustration about a new diplomatic service headed by Ashton, Steven Vanackere expressed in an interview with his country\’s Le Soir newspaper his "impatience" at the "European Union\’s ability to speak with one voice," an objective set by Ashton when she was appointed in November 2009.
Vanackere lamented the divisions that emerged within the 27-nation EU during the "great test presented by the Arab awakening".
"I am reluctant to be only positive when describing how we have managed this up to now, because the European Union is not united," he said.
Ashton\’s European External Action Service should be the central point from where EU states can organise themselves, he said.
"But in the absence of a central player that reacts, makes analyses and conclusions quickly, it is the Germans today, the French tomorrow or the English who partially take up this role," he sid.
He acknowledged that Ashton "cannot be everywhere at the same time."
"We can accept that some react faster than Ashton, but with the condition that she can prove that she is working for the medium-term and long-term on very important issues like energy, for example," he said.
"But I have not seen this either," Vanackere said.
European diplomats have often criticised Ashton since the English baroness took up her duties, but it is the first time that a foreign minister has spoke out so strongly against her in public.