EU's Ashton turns down French government language course
The EU's English foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said on Monday she would not be taking up a French government minister's offer to take a language study-break in the south of France.
The oft-criticised baroness had been invited in March by France's European affairs minister Pierre Lellouche to take the course near Avignon, paid for by the French government in what many commentators had taken as a slight on her self-proclaimed poor foreign language skills.
However, Ashton showed an improving grasp of diplomatic niceties when she said, in French, that she would learn the language "during the holidays," although she did not spell out how she intended to achieve that objective in the short time available.
An unelected English baroness with no prior foreign policy experience, Ashton had been a target of private criticism from French officials for her low profile and limited language skills, but Lellouche said earlier she had been working on her French.
"I've been working on my German," Lellouche said, "and I can assure you she is far more at ease in French than I am in German."
© 2010 AFP