She took up her highly-paid post promising to be a powerful new voice in foreign affairs, part of a bold strategy to make Europe a global player on the world stage. But to the private delight of her opponents, and the dismay of the federalist supporters who created her job, the lacklustre performance of Baroness Ashton of Upholland after more than a year in office has earned her the nickname “the invisible woman”.
The Sunday Telegraph has learned that Baroness Ashton, who was pushed into the plum position during Gordon Brown’s last few months in office, is formally requesting a 5.8 per cent budget increase next year – an extra €27 million – to pay the spiralling wage bill of the new European External Affairs Service, around 100 of whose diplomats earn more than the British foreign secretary.
Baroness Ashton’s supporters argue that to run a truly effective foreign service – “Europe’s State Department”, as they like to call it – she needs a bigger budget; her detractors accuse her of committing too much money in an effort to woo high calibre staff with lavish perks and salaries.
Staff costs have proved to be highly controversial for the new service, which pays top ambassadors €188,000 (£165,000). Around 100 officials earn more than the £134,565 salary paid to William Hague, the Foreign Secretary.
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