She told the joke like this:
The Secretary of State of the United States goes to the President and says:I had read or heard this one before, but since the moderator mentioned ex-MEP and Finnish foreign minister Alexander Stubb as the origin of the joke and Cathy Ashton wasn't aware of that, I did a little research to check that claim.
"Mr President, finally an answer to the question that Henry Kissinger raised. Which is: 'We want to talk to Europe - whose number do we ring?' We have one phone number; let's ring the number and see what happens."
They ring the number and my [Catherine Ashton's; JF] voice mail is answering: "Welcome to Europe! For the French Position press 1, for the German position press 2..."
According to the New York Times, it was indeed Stubb who told the joke at a NATO reform conference in early March (although we don't know whether he invented it himself).
The version reported in the NYT goes like this:
"President Obama learns with interest that Europe now has a phone number. He’s told that, responding at last to Henry Kissinger’s famous jibe, the European Union has appointed a President named Herman Van Rompuy from Belgium and given him a 24/7 phone line.While the punch line is the same in both versions, there is an interesting difference: In Cathy's version, she is called by the the Secretary of State and the President of the USA, in the version reported from Stubb it is European Council President van Rompuy.
So, Obama decides to try out Europe’s phone number. Henry will be tickled. But the president forgets about the time difference and gets an answering machine:
“Good Evening, you’ve reached the European Union, Herman Van Rompuy speaking. We are closed for tonight. Please select from the following options. Press one for the French view, two for the German view, three for the British view, four for the Polish view, five for the Italian view, six for the Romanian view. ...”
Obama hangs up in dismay."
The question is: Which version of the joke will prevail, the one with Ashton or the other with van Rompuy...?
Update: According to Alex Stubb, he is not the one who invented the joke.
Picture: © european_parliament / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0