- EU chief came under fire for taking luxury break at a five-star hotel in Australia during euro crisis
- Criticised for slow response to international crises such as Haiti earthquake
- Had one of the worst meeting attendance records among European commissioners
- Accused of being ‘mediocre’ and anonymous by top politicians
- Frustrated Gordon Brown, who appointed her in 2009
PUBLISHED: 11:27 EST, 20 March 2012 | UPDATED: 14:27 EST, 20 March 2012
Israeli leaders on Tuesday denounced the European Union’s top diplomat for linking a deadly shooting attack at a Jewish school in France and Israeli military attacks that kill Palestinian children.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton later said her comments were ‘grossly distorted.’
At a conference on young Palestinian refugees Monday, Ashton spoke of children killed ‘in all sorts of terrible circumstances,’ including the shooting in Toulouse, France, and events ‘happening in Gaza.’
Israel’s prime minister, defence minister and foreign minister all denounced the linkage.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that he was incensed by ‘the parallel between the pinpoint slaughter of children … and the Israeli military’s defensive surgical strikes against terrorists who use children as live shields.’
Gaza militants often operate within residential neighbourhoods of the densely populated territory.
In her clarification, Ashton said her remarks referred to ‘tragedies taking the lives of children and around the world and drew no parallel whatsoever between the circumstances of the Toulouse attack and the situation in Gaza.’
Police blanketed southern France on Tuesday, searching for the gunman – possibly a racist, anti-Semitic serial killer – who shot dead four people at a Jewish school and may have filmed his attack.
The manhunt took place as friends and family tearfully mourned those slain at close range in the city of Toulouse – a rabbi, his two young sons and a young girl.
Authorities suspect the killer at the Jewish school was also behind two recent attacks in the same area on French paratroopers that left three dead and one seriously wounded.
The soldiers were of North African and French Caribbean backgrounds.
A ‘monster’ is on the loose in France, French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared, vowing to track him down.
‘There are beings who have no respect for life. When you grab a little girl to put a bullet in her head, without leaving her any chance, you are a monster. An anti-Semitic monster, but first of all a monster,’ he said.
This is not the first embarrassing gaffe for Baroness Ashton.
The EU chief came under fire in October when she enjoyed a luxury break at a five-star hotel in Australia while other ministers tackled the growing problem with the euro.
She was said to have spent flown off to Melbourne after a brief meeting to stay at the exclusive Club Spa Suite at the Langham hotel, and later dined at top Sydney restaurant Aria before travelling to Japan, where she wanted to go shopping.
She has previously been criticised for her slow reaction to international crises, and earlier last year, the Foreign Office mistakenly published confidential documents which stated that she was not experienced enough to be Europe’s foreign policy chief.
Last January it emerged that she was paying reduced taxes on her £230,000 salary.
Baroness Ashton was saving up to £40,000 a year through a special deal for civil servants in Brussels in which she opted out of the British tax regime – a deal which is not available to members of the European Parliament.
The disclosure came amid concerns that the Labour peer had one of the worst attendance records among European commissioners and had missed four out of ten key Brussels meetings, partly because of her travel commitments.
Despite her role as the head of security for Europe, she missed an important joint EU and Nato security summit in Majorca.
Gordon Brown unleashed a four-letter tirade against her over her lacklustre performance in Brussels, having installed her as EU foreign minister a year earlier.
She faced criticism from domestic and foreign quarters for being ‘mediocre’ and anonymous.
She was forced to admit to gaps in her knowledge when asked what she thought of calls for the EU to replace the UK and France in the United Nations Security Council, replying, ‘I don’t know’ and, ‘You’ve caught me out.’
Bureaucrats in Brussels complained that she did not answer phone calls after 8pm and never worked weekends – a charge she denied.
David Miliband wrote to her to her at the time to warn her she risked losing a power struggle over her 5000-strong civil service entourage.
She also upset colleagues in Europe when she did not fly to Haiti immediately after the earthquake that claimed 250,000 lives.
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