Once again you may be thinking: where is Ms Ashton? It is not the first time that we have wondered what the head of the European diplomatic service is doing, but the question is all the more pertinent at a time when Libya appears to be about to embrace democracy in the wake of a military campaign in which European states have played a key role.

There is no denying that events in Libya had the poor taste to come to a head at a time when European institutions are traditionally on holidays, with a limited number of staff to deal with current affairs. The boss of the European External Action Service (EEAS) did in fact cut short her vacation, but before speaking out on developments in the North African country, she will have to consult with the foreign ministers of Europe’s 27 member states, most of whom are not at their desks. Their next meeting is scheduled for… 12 September.

On 23 August, Ms Ashton nonetheless announced, at a press conference, which was barely reported by the media, that she had spoken with the leader of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) Mustafa Abdel Jalil “about ways in which the European Union, the Member States, can support the future of the Libyan people.”

The role played by European states in the Libyan crisis has demonstrated that they are capable of taking the initiative in a region — the Mediteranean basin — where the United States believes they should be more involved. Having shown that they can conduct a joint military campaign, they must now present a united political front, if possible, via Europe’s shared institutions. Specifically, they should come together to contribute to the reconstruction of the country, a field in which Europeans have a well recognised expertise.

Having been bizarrely absent at the outset of the “Arab spring,” the Union cannot allow itself to miss this opportunity: especially when you consider the strategic location of Libya, its economic weight and its role in the regulation of migration flows from Sub-Saharan Africa. The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) is one instrument that Europe could use in its bid to achieve this objective: although it got off to a bad start and was subsequently sidelined, it could now be re-launched as a genuine organisation devoted to the goals of cooperation and political coordination.

In taking charge of this task, Ms Ashton could give a meaning to her role as European High Representative for Foreign Affairs — an appointment which for the moment continues to puzzle most of Europe’s citizens.

Translated from the French by Mark McGovern