EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The European Union on Thursday evening (19 November) said it had solved the long-standing question of whom the US secretary of state should call with foreign policy problems, but admitted the situation may not be so clear in other areas.
"The Secretary of State of the United States [Hillary Clinton] should call Cathy Ashton," said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso referring to the newly-appointed EU foreign policy chief.
"She is our foreign minister," he added noting that at this level "the so-called Kissinger issue is solved."
Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger is reported to have once asked whom he should call if he wants to talk to someone in Europe.
Supposedly asked in the 1970s - although there are doubts it was ever posed - the question has been used by Europeans ever since as a touchstone for EU foreign policy and external unity.
The line came up following the decision by member states to appoint the UK's Ms Ashton, currently EU trade commissioner, to be the bloc's top diplomat.
The beefed up role, outlined in the new Lisbon Treaty, sees the person chair the EU's monthly foreign minister meetings, serve as vice-president of the European Commission and head up a new diplomatic service.
Ms Ashton, who has never held elected office and who emerged late as a contender, confessed to being surprised to have been nominated for the post.
Anticipating the criticism that is likely to come because of her lack of foreign policy experience, she referred to her success in negotiating a major trade deal with South Korea as evidence of her skills.
"Am I an ego on legs? No I'm not. Judge me on what I do and I think you will be pleased and proud of me."
Meanwhile, Mr Barroso indicated that while Ms Clinton may have someone to call, it will not always be clear who foreign leaders should reach out to in the EU to find an interlocutor at their own level.
Referring to "other matters" he noted that Europe is "a union of states, so by definition [its] system is more complex."
He indicated that sometimes he will be the one to call and sometimes it will be Herman Van Rompuy, who as the newly-elected EU president, will also represent the EU in common foreign and security policy.
Some people do not understand the concept of supranational institutions, said Mr Barroso, "but we will keep on explaining to them."