CATHERINE Ashton, the new European Union chief of foreign policy, made her debut before the European Parliament on Wednesday. This was something of a courtesy call because the formal confirmation hearings by the Parliament -- which all the EU Commissioners have to undergo -- will not take place until January. Even so, Lady Ashton had to field some pointed questions about her supposed lack of experience in foreign policy and on her time as treasurer of Britain's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the early 1980s which, it was suggested, might have meant that she had taken money from a communist state. This allegation was first raised by the UKIP MEP Nigel Farage after Catherine Ashton's appointment; he asked whether the EU wanted someone in charge of overseas security who had been “an activist in an outfit like CND”.

The fatuity of Farage's comment speaks for itself. The CND was a legal organisation with widespread support in Britain and the aims it stood for are now those of the main nuclear powers. Lady Ashton turned the question very nicely by saying that she never knew the source of CND's income because it was collected “in buckets and on street corners”. In her two-hour appearance she was mildly criticised for not having “specific answers” on some points but she probably knew she would be attacked if she had already made up her mind after only a few days in the job.


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