Baroness Ashton caught on film panicking because she does not know what Serb president looks like
Baroness Ashton has been ridiculed after footage showing her and one of her most senior diplomats panicking before a crucial meeting with Serbia’s president because they do not know what he looks like became an internet hit.
By Bruno Waterfield, Brussels
7:11PM BST 18 Jun 2012, Telegraph
A live camera and microphone caught the moment, in a Brussels corridor, before the head of the EU diplomatic service and Robert Cooper, her envoy to the Balkans, go to welcome Tomislav Nikolic, the newly inaugurated Serbian President.
Despite the fact that Serbia is a candidate for EU membership and that Lady Ashton’s service is deeply concerned over the nationalist past of President Nikolic, a former ally of former Slobodan Milosevic, the pair have not familiarised themselves with a photograph of him before sensitive talks.
As she prepares to enter the room to welcome Mr Nikolic before the critical negotiations, Lady Ashton, the second best paid female politician in the world after Christine Lagarde, the IMF chief, panics because she does not know whose hand to shake in greeting.
“Robert, somebody has got to come with me because I don’t know what he looks like,” she says, turning back from the meeting room.
Mr Cooper, who is the EU’s lead negotiator with Serbia and a senior British diplomat, replies: “Nor do I.”
Getting increasingly anxious and as the Serbian leader waits in the room, Lady Ashton asks urgently, “who knows, who knows what he looks like?”.
A full blown diplomatic crisis is only averted when a more junior official, whose face cannot be seen, curtly injects to say, “I have a picture.”
After a short pause the film, which has become a hit on Twitter and been likened to the political satire The Thick Of It, shows Lady Ashton warmly greeting a man who she would not have recognised just a few seconds before.
Martin Callanan MEP, the leader of the European Conservatives group, said: “It is perplexing that we are spending hundreds of millions of pounds on a shiny EU diplomatic service and they can’t find someone who knows what the President of Serbia looks like. It’s more shocking that the Baroness’s man in Serbia was also clueless. It doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence.”
In the run-up to the talks, President Nikolic, who was elected on 21 May, alarmed the EU by insisting that the town of Vukovar in Croatia, which joins the EU next year belongs to Serbia.
He also claimed that Srebrenica – which EU institutions designate as a Serb genocide of Muslims – was not genocide.