Catherine Margaret Ashton, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, PC (born 20 March 1956) is a British politician belonging to the Labour Party who has been the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union (EU) since 1 December 2009 when the post was created. She is also the First-Vice-President of the European Commission (since February 2010). She prefers to be known as Cathy Ashton.
A British Labour politician, Ashton was made a life peer in 1999 by the Labour government and held junior ministerial appointments in three government departments. She was later appointed Leader of the House of Lords and, in that role, was instrumental in steering the Treaty of Lisbon through Britain's Upper House. In 2008, she succeeded Peter Mandelson as Commissioner for Trade in the European Commission. In December 2009 she became the first person to take on the newly enlarged High Representative role for the EU as created by the Treaty of Lisbon.
Catherine Ashton was born in Upholland, Lancashire on 20 March 1956. Her father, Harold, was a civil engineer and came from a working class family, with a background in coal mining going back generations. She attended Upholland Grammar School in Billinge Higher End, Lancashire, then Wigan Mining and Technical College in Wigan. Ashton graduated with a BSc in sociology in 1977 from Bedford College, London (now part of Royal Holloway, University of London). She was the first woman in her family to attend a university.