Who is EU's new foreign policy chief?

Federica Mogherini will replace Catherine Ashton as the European Union foreign policy chief. Can she measure up to the job? Photo by: European Commission

Federica Mogherini is the new high representative for foreign affairs and security policy of the European Union.

The decision, announced by current EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, was made Aug. 30 at a special meeting of the European Council in Brussels.

The 41-year-old politician, who has been Italy’s foreign minister since February, will replace Catherine Ashton, a center-left U.K. politician who has been running the EU External Action Service since its launch in 2009.

Mogherini is a member of the Italian center-left Democratic Party and has been politically active within left-wing parties since early 1990s. She was appointed foreign minister in February 2014, after Matteo Renzi was sworn in as Italy’s youngest-ever prime minister.

Elected to parliament in 2008, she served as secretary of the defense commission in the lower house, was a member of the foreign affairs commission and led the Italian delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

A front-runner for the post, Mogherini faced tough competition: European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva and Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Radek Sikorski were both in the running.

The EU failed to get consensus on her candidacy last month, despite strong support from Renzi. The Baltic states and Poland claimed Mogherini is “too close and too soft” with Russia. Concerns that she was just six months into her post as Italian foreign minister and therefore relatively inexperienced were also factors apparently counting against her.

Being foreign minister of one of the G-7 countries is no small feat, however, a fact that Mogherini highlighted to critics.

“I think the institutional experience is very important — I have some — but I also think that the experience that one gains through the work in political life and civil society is also of value,” she told reporters.

Russia crisis

As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine intensified over the summer, the crisis will surely be a priority for the next EU foreign policy chief.

The EU has imposed several sanctions on Russia since the start of the conflict. During the Aug. 30 meeting, leaders in attendance agreed to draw up another list of punitive measures that could affect a range of sectors in Russia.

“We are trying to coordinate our efforts to facilitate a dialogue between Russia and Ukraine. We are aware that the military option isn’t the right one, especially for Ukrainians … we want to keep the diplomatic option open,” Mogherini told reporters Saturday.

Other appointments

Mogherini starts her new role in November, when Jean-Claude Juncker assumes presidency of the European Commission. Lapo Mistelli, deputy minister at Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, is reportedly a strong contender for Mogherini’s soon-to-be vacant post.

Georgieva, meanwhile, will reportedly be appointed as the EU’s next budget commissioner. While not confirming the appointment, Georgieva did acknowledge to reporters that being a serious contender for Ashton’s position helped strengthen her chances in landing an “important” position in the Juncker Commission.

During the Aug. 30 meeting, EU leaders also elected Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk to succeed Van Rompuy in December. EU Commission President-elect Juncker is expected to come up with a list of commissioners and portfolios in the second week of September.

“EU leaders were convinced that Ms. Mogherini will prove a skillful and steadfast negotiator for Europe’s place in the world,” Van Rompuy said in a statement, which also underlined Italy’s “long-standing tradition of commitment to the European Union.”

“I wish her every success in taking forward the EU’s external action over the next five years at the head of the European External Action Service,” Ashton, the outgoing foreign affairs chief, said.

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About the author

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    Eva Donelli

    As a correspondent based in Brussels, Eva Donelli covers EU development policy issues and actors, from the EU institutions to the international NGO community. Eva was previously at the United Nations Regional Information Center for Western Europe and in the European Parliament's press office. As a freelance reporter, she has contributed to Italian and international magazines covering a wide range of issues, including EU affairs, development policy, social protection and nuclear energy. She speaks fluent English, French and Spanish in addition to her native Italian.