Europe Economy

Ashton Goes from Unknown to Top Diplomat

Carolina Cimenti|CNBC Reporter

European heads of states appointed Baroness Catherine Ashton as the European Union's foreign-policy chief, the so-called first EU Foreign Minister, Thursday evening.

While many contend that her appointment is a surprise, in fact she is exactly who the EU leaders were looking for.

Ashton ticks the box for being a woman, and we know they were trying to raise the number of female senior officials. She's from the UK Labour Party, and it was already decided that the center-right parties should take the presidency job, while center-left would appoint the Foreign Minister.

Finally she's a British, and with the growing possibility of the Conservatives winning the elections next year in the UK, Brussels desperately needed to get a Labour politician in a top job to be sure Britain doesn't jump the EU ship.

Baroness Ashton Appointed EU Foreign Minister

"With Catherine Ashton's appointment ... we're sure that Britain is in the heart of the European Union", said European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

Ashton told CNBC that "having been a leader of the House of Lords, I worked very closely with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. And I hope they will welcome me and be proud of me as a Brit and what I can achieve in Europe".

- Watch the full interview with Baroness Catherine Ashton above.

The new EU's foreign-policy chief has relatively little foreign-policy experience. She arrived in Brussels only a year ago to take over from Lord Peter Mandelson as the EU's trade commissioner. Before that she served in a series of mid-tier jobs in British politics.

"Am I an ego on legs? No, I'm not", she said on her first press conference after being appointed. "Judge me by what I do and I think you'll be pleased and proud of me".

Ashton has never been elected to public office and has served in a number of low-key roles in the UK. In 1999, she received a life peerage under Tony Blair's government.

"I was never elected but spent 25 years of my life in various negotiation jobs all over Europe so I think the skills I have are really what matter," she said..

Indeed, to create a common EU foreign policy in the first place negotiations skills are the order of the day.