Quiet diplomacy and concerted action
Less than a month ago the 27 EU heads of government chose me as the first High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, a role created by the Lisbon Treaty.
The treaty gives us new possibilities to make Europe better and more relevant for its citizens. It can also help us find a stronger and more coherent voice on the world stage.
The reputation of the EU in the world is a good one, based on our strong values of freedom and democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. We already speak with conviction and clarity on the major challenges that face us, be they climate change, poverty, conflict or terrorism.
We have put boots on the ground with successful civilian and military missions on four different continents. We are the biggest provider of humanitarian aid and project funding. We are also a superpower economy made up of half a billion people. Still, we remain accused of not punching our weight politically.
My job is to make our voice stronger and more unified, in my dual role as chair of the meeting of foreign ministers and vice-president of the European Commission. I believe that a lot can be achieved with 'quiet diplomacy'. We need people who can listen as well as talk, and who can work behind the scenes as well as in the glare of the spotlight. What we also need is concerted action to achieve our goals.
My first priority will be to build the new diplomatic service that the Lisbon Treaty foresees. The European External Action Service will be based in Brussels, with representations throughout the world.
It should be a network that is the pride of Europe and the envy of the rest of the world, with the most talented people from all member states of the EU working in our common interest.
It should offer our citizens added value to what their countries already do, and give our partners around the world a trusted and reliable partner on European issues. It should be a foreign service for the 21st century.
The EU must pull its weight in areas of crisis and conflict. This is the responsibility of a global actor, but is also sound policy for the security of Europe. My objective is to enhance cooperation and to use the various crisis management tools we already have and develop them and our civilian and military capabilities further in order to get the job done.
We are already playing an important role in the Balkans and the southern Caucasus. We can act jointly with the US in the Middle East, building on ongoing activity and fostering dialogue.
Europe is engaged in Africa, including creating a safe passage for naval vessels threatened by piracy around the Horn of Africa, complemented by vital land-based initiatives.
Europe is committed to Afghanistan, with its military presence but also with training and infrastructure, for instance, paying the salaries of more than half the Afghan police force. Together with our partners, we will also keep pressure on Iran to meet international obligations on its nuclear programme.
I will also seek to reinforce our cooperation with strategic partners such as the US, China, Russia, India and Brazil. We must resolve the differences we still have, but also in order work to solve the many common challenges we now face.
This approach does not mean that we are forgetting other partners - the EU has a tight network of bilateral relations and agreements with countries across the world. We will use this network and the multilateral system to promote our values and interests.
Above all, I want to continue to have an open and serious debate within the EU on our foreign policy goals. I will work with my foreign minister colleagues in the member states and with national parliaments and the European Parliament. We must communicate our policy to European citizens, and they in turn should make their voices heard.
One of the fathers of Europe, Jean Monnet, once said: "Everybody is ambitious. The question is whether he is ambitious to be or ambitious to do."
I for one am ambitious to do, and hope that getting results will be what defines my time as High Representative.
Ms Ashton is High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission.