Catherine Ashton is not a very recognisable face even at home in Britain and becomes the European Union’s foreign policy chief with just a year in a big international job.
Ashton, 53, trained as an economist and has never been elected to public office. She worked for several charities dealing with equality issues and for a health authority before she was anointed Baroness Ashton of Upholland and made a member of Britain’s House of Lords in 1999.
“Judge me by what I do and I think you’ll be pleased and proud of me,” she told reporters after she was appointed by EU leaders. “Am I an ego on legs? No, I’m not.”
She is the first woman to take such a senior post in the European Union, based on one year’s experience as the EU’s trade commissioner.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown glossed over her lack of experience, saying she had behaved “brilliantly” in her current post and would give Britain a powerful voice within the European Union.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “a very capable person who’s well equipped to take on this job.”
At least one part of her resume could prove useful: she campaigned against nuclear weapons in the 1970s and will now head European efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear programme.
She became a junior minister and leader of the House of Lords in 2007. Gay rights group Stonewall named her politician of the year in 2006 for working against discrimination.