EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The EU's new foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, will take up her duties next week, in a continuation of the political whirlwind which saw her suddenly propelled from her short stint as trade commissioner to taking on what will be one of the union's most high profile jobs.
Ms Ashton, who emerged as the surprise choice during a meeting of EU leaders last week, will take up office on 1 December, when the Lisbon Treaty, creating the post, comes into force.
Shortly after starting work, she will face MEPs keen to test her knowledge on a range of foreign policy issues running from the Middle East to Russia and Iran.
Ms Ashton will also be vice-president of the European Commission, which gives MEPs the right to formally audition her for the post.
This first meeting in her new role will be keenly followed as Ms Ashton, who has been praised for her time as trade commissioner, does not have any foreign policy experience, a point made in several analyses and editorials over the weekend.
Reactions from the parliament directly after her appointment were mixed. The Socialists, who had claimed the top diplomat job for one of their own following an agreement with the centre-right, strongly welcomed her.
"In the House of Lords, she managed to secure Britain's support for the Lisbon Treaty, showing genuine negotiating skills," said socialist leader Martin Schulz, adding that he was particularly pleased that the EU foreign policy chief is a woman.
The centre-right European People's Party group, the biggest in the parliament, was more circumspect. Leader Joseph Daul said he welcomed the fact that EU leaders were able to agree on the two posts - for foreign policy and president of the European Council - but noted in a statement that Ms Ashton still has to be "heard" by MEPs.
Green leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit characterised her as a "weak" appointment, while Timothy Kirkhope, from the anti-federalist ECR group, said that the UK would have been better off getting a strong economic portfolio in the European Commission.
If MEPs were to rally against her following her hearing, it is unclear what the legal consequences would be.
"On that there is no precise legal answer because the high representative side is not in the gift of the parliament," noted an EU official.
Ms Ashton, whose meteoric ascent has come as a surprise even to her, will have to hit the ground running. She is set to attend an EU-Ukraine summit on 4 December. The first EU foreign ministers' meeting, which she is supposed to chair under the new rules, will take place on 7 December.
It will also fall to her to oversee the setting up the EU's external action service, a thousands-strong diplomatic outfit that one EU official described as the greatest-ever change to the commission's bureaucracy.
Her 1 December start opens up other questions, such as what will happen to the trade portfolio which she will vacate and what will be the role of Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the current EU external relations commissioner.
Ms Ashton's new job merges the external relations commissioner post with that of the high representative for foreign policy, currently held by Javier Solana, for the first time putting foreign policy clout together with the financial means to implement it into the hands of one person.