«The task of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs is to outline a strategic approach that ensures an incisive EU role in the world, and to seek European partners’ consensus on it. I believe that there is a great deal of room for Europe in foreign policy-making. More than ever before, all the critical challenges to global stability are concentrated in the areas of Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East; and Europe is in demand now more than ever to resolve those crises or prevent other future ones. The question is one of political will, not of existing capabilities or instruments. We need to translate that potential into action».The day after her appointment as European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini receives us at the Italian Permanent Mission to Brussels shortly before leaving on a mission to Moldova.
Madame Minister, you are the first member and the first woman of the “Erasmus generation” to be appointed to a senior European post, as leader of Union diplomacy. Do you feel a special responsibility?
«The post is a special one. It is not only a question of guiding European diplomacy, but also of building a common foreign policy. Moreover, as vice president, the high representative has a leading role in the Commission, which is about to embark on a new season. The challenge is a complex one. It is no exaggeration to say that this is a test for a generation that is beginning to assume institutional responsibilities at European level, and I hope it will help to bridge the gap between Europe and its citizens».
You have been criticised for a lack of experience and meaningful international contacts. Major international newspapers have claimed you are “not up to” the task. How do you take those claims, and how do you intend to respond to them?
«They don’t worry me. I think it is understandable, faced with something new, that opinion-makers and pundits are asking questions and voicing doubts. If I am not mistaken, I am going to be the youngest member on the Commission, but I believe I have the time and the ability to respond positively to these queries. I have five years to do it but, in all modesty, I don’t think it will take that long. As for experience, I believe mine has been quite varied, both political and institutional. I have been personally involved for 20 years now, since 1994, with European and international concerns. This is my area. My network of international contacts is broad-based, and will not consist of former premiers and ministers alone, but will likely include future premiers, and a long list of current ministers and prime ministers. The issue here is not to judge a single career, but to understand that there is a new European generation that has grown up since the collapse of the Berlin Wall in France, Spain and Romania, and in the other nations of Europe. These are people with whom I maintain daily contact – by text message, for example – that bypasses diplomatic protocols and breeds a familiarity that helps build new dynamics. I have received a great many messages filled with pride at an appointment that marks a generational leap in Europe».
The Treaty of Lisbon tasks the high representative with a wide range of duties, not least of which is the supervision of all Commission foreign policy concerns. In his speech at Strasbourg, however, newly appointed president Juncker spoke about reducing the high representative’s remit to some extent. Did you discuss that yesterday? Your appointment was met with nearly unanimous consensus, which would justify a full mandate.
«I said that I intend to fully exercise both roles. This is fundamental, not only from an Italian standpoint but, and above all, a European one. As the Treaty states, as high representative I will serve Europe, and no longer my country alone. Playing the two roles is extremely important because it is necessary to both coordinate foreign affairs issues and fully and actively participate in the workings of the Commission. Fruitful cooperation and institutional synergy must underpin the new Europe».
You are the only Italian member of the Commission. Although a servant of Europe, you also bear a responsibility to Italy. How do you intend to reconcile your obligations as the EU’s ambassador in the world with your presence on the Commission, something from which Lady Ashton abstained entirely?
«It is my intention to attend every Commission meeting. I will be able to do that, and am already organising things, but the goal is clear to me: I will be high representative and I will be vice president of the Commission, keeping a close eye on all issues. I wish to add that I will also be doing something else: I will be the highest placed Socialist on the Commission and intend to play a political role. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Premier Matteo Renzi through an Italian newspaper, something which I felt was not suitable yesterday. I thank him for the courage and vision with which he conducted the complex negotiations for my appointment over these past months, and which have led to this success for Italy. The best way to ensure that I am fully able to play my role on the Commission is to ensure a strong bond between the Italian government and the high representative».
The European Union’s current central emergency is Ukraine, the crisis with Moscow and the risk of a conflict spinning out of control. How is Europe going to have to act? Are sanctions the way to convince Putin to change direction?(
As we speak, the news arrives that Putin has called for ‘statehood’ talks for pro-Russian eastern Ukraine).«It is in the interests of Ukraine, Europe and Russia to achieve a political solution to the crisis and not a military one, which is simply out of the question. But every time the foundations have begun to be laid for agreement, developments on the ground have run counter. Putin has not kept his word regarding various agreements: in Geneva, Normandy, Berlin; he wasted an opportunity to exert his influence on separatists when the Malaysian plane was shot down. The gap between commitments and concrete behaviour has been enormous. Now there is this new development, which could further jeopardise territorial integrity, and the country’s very stability. In my opinion, at this stage it is essential to uphold the principle that a nation may choose the European option without damaging or threatening Russia. The choice of European association is a positive one, and must be viewed as such. Today, thanks to Putin, that partnership is no more. At this moment, Russia is no longer a strategic partner, but remains strategic to our continent. It is in everyone’s interests that countries that share a geographic area cooperate and work together. But that is not what is happening. I repeat: diplomacy has no alternative, and sanctions are the only instruments available to such a policy. But they must be part of an overall strategy that, perhaps, has been lacking. The point is whether the effect the sanctions are proving to have on the Russian economy will produce rational behaviour in its leadership. In this phase, the Kremlin is acting against the interests of its people».
The other major front for international European Union commitments is the Middle East.
«A lot will be at stake in that region in the coming years. The situation is explosive. It is as if the Arab spring movements were merely a prelude to what is now taking shape. In some alarming cases, such as Syria and Iraq, and in other more promising ones. Until only a short time ago, it was unimaginable that Iran and Saudi Arabia would have sat down together at the same table; or that issues such as Iran’s nuclear programme would have arrived at the eve of an agreement, which I hope will take place in November. Europe can and must facilitate dialogue among the various regional powers, recognising them as such and seeking the trust of countries that are feeling the common threat of ISIS. We can trigger virtuous mechanisms across the region. Our active role is in demand and is welcome».