On the 6th of October, Federica Mogherini was facing the European Parliament for her confirmation hearing as the next High Representative/Vice President (HR/VP). In an hearing of over 3 hours, she described and presented her vision of the job and the role of the EU on the international stage.
In her opening statement, Mogherini framed quite well the main questions that are oftentimes sidelined and unfortunately left continuously unanswered by national and European leaders: “In this difficult world, in these difficult times, what does the European Union do? Where do we stand? How do we make sure that we play our role in these difficult times?” She presented her plan in order to make the EU more relevant on the global stage. She laid out three driving forces: first, to shape ‘a real common policy;’ second, to deepen the degree of cooperation between the EU institutions, Parliament, Council, Commission and EEAS; third, to increase coordination and communication among the agents involved on similar policies.
In terms of area of actions, Mogherini wants to narrow down the area of European interests. She wants to “taking care of our part of the world,” which entails the direct and broader neighborhoods: East (Russia, Caucasus and Turkey), South (Middle East and North Africa). A clear area of actions for the EU and the CSDP is long due as it will allow Member States and European institutions to clearly identify the pressing issues and the strategy to adopt and implement.
However, Mogherini is facing several core challenges: first, an inside one – Member States & institutional; second, an outside one – Europe declining global position in the world; third, a series of unstable regional and global crises. Her opening statement before the Parliament illustrates clearly that she is well aware of the challenges ahead of her.
First, the institutional tensions between EU institutions, Member States and from the Member States are real. They can seriously affect the efficiency of the European foreign policy machine as it was the case under Ashton. Mogherini was appointed at one of the most difficult position. Her title says it all: High Representative and Vice President of the Commission. She has a double-hatted position half intergovernmental – Member States – and half supranational – Commission -. As argued by Jan Techau, Mogherini’s role and tasks are very complex as “[European] institutions are strong on trade and development but have almost zero executive power in classic diplomacy and crisis management.”
Ashton has demonstrated the degree of challenge entailed in the HR/VP position. For instance, she had been criticized for not assisting at many meeting at the Commission, when in fact she was traveling for the EEAS (at least this is the official argument). In order to avoid a similar scenario, Mogherini has been proactive and has announced that she will be moving with her Cabinet to the Berlaymont Building (the Commission’s building). Her rationale is that “I [Mogherini] cannot ask structures to work together if I do not work with all of them myself.” She is planning to assist at the College of European commissioners’ meetings. Techau frames quite well the reality and dilemma of the HR/VP job and all decision-making in foreign policy at the EU level. Techau calls it the dilemma between the internal realities – Brussels bubble – (what is possible), and the external realities (what is needed). Mogherini, as her predecessor, will have to try to narrow this expectation-reality gap as much as possible.
Undeniably, Mogherini is taking over a broken foreign and defense policy machine. The last five years under the helm of Catherine Ashton, the EEAS and CSDP have been under serious tensions and attacks from the Member States. The Big Three, especially France and the UK, see the EEAS as a direct threat to their national foreign ministries; while the CSDP has simply been relegated to a second grade defense instrument stabilizing context after French or international interventions. This has been the case in Mali, Central Africa and Libya. Mogherini will have to deal with the powerful European foreign policy leaders, and re-affirm the credibility and contribution of the EEAS in Europe. She will have to sell the EU foreign policy to Europeans.
Second, the declining position of the EU on the global stage is undeniable. The rise of new powers, especially China, and the continuous affirmation of American powers, despite a broad literature demonstrating American decline, are clear challenges. Mogherini holds one dimension of the global relevance of the EU. She needs to remain committed and avoid the “rapid erosion of European power and influence in the world.” At this rate of decline and inaction, the EU will become a second-grade power. In the current global dis-order, the EU can maintain a premier role if it wants to. The HR/VP can play a role in it.
Third, Mogherini will have a lot on her plate once HR/VP. The list of security issues from public health (with the Ebola), to energy security (Russia and Ukraine), to territorial tensions (Russia and the Palestinian files), to homeland and international terrorism (ISIS and homeland radicalization of the European youth) are all awaiting clear common European strategies. Each of these issues has to be coordinated at the European level as all of them are transnational problems. Additionally, Mogherini will have to empower the CSDP or simply shift the CSDP into NATO. The CSDP under Ashton has been in decline in terms of objectives, role and influence. The 2013 Defense summit (read here, here, and here in depth analysis on the summit) led to a re-commitment by the EU-28 towards European defense and the CSDP, but the words have yet to be translated into actions.
Food for Thoughts
On a positive note, Mogherini embodies a new class of European leaders. She is young and understands foreign policy. Her past experience, despite being short and limited, nevertheless was directly connected with foreign affairs. This was not the case of Catherine Ashton when she got appointed in 2009. Mogherini embodies a younger Italian political class that wants to reaffirm the serious commitment of Italy to the European project.
“We need a long-term vision to prevent crises and to manage post-crises. We need to think big,” underscored Mogherini during her opening statement “with a far-reaching look at the global landscape, and we have to realise that this is in our own interest.” Such statement deserves credit and attention as leaders with a strategic vision have become rare. Javier Solana, the first HR, was this kind of politician with a broad strategic vision. He understood that a clear narrative and strategic vision was necessary in order to have an active EU on the global stage; and he understood which fights to pick. Again, the political, social and economic realities of the EU are to some degree similar and arguably worst that the ones under HR Ashton. The economic slump of the Eurozone and the EU is continuing; anti-Europe sentiments are growing all around the EU and are even becoming core components of domestic policies like in Britain; and the national desire to spend money on foreign policy and defense is not present. Mogherini will have to convince the EU-28 that the EEAS and CSDP are not a redundancy in costs and are in fact complementary to national commitment to foreign policy and defense. Mogherini certainly has a positive aspect going in her favor as a large majority of Europeans are in favor a EU leadership in world affairs as demonstrated below. Europeans at 73% consider that the EU ought to contribute to the making and shaping of world affairs.
Last but not least, Mogherini’s hearing before the Parliament underlined her ease in expressing herself – and in several languages -. She seems to understand – and we will see if she will ‘enjoy’ it – the highly political dimension of her position, which was apparently not shared by her predecessor. As underscored by Nick Witney of the ECFR, “To succeed, she will also need luck, determination, and more support – from the member states, from the President of the European Commission and from the other Brussels institutions – than her predecessor ever enjoyed.” Based on her performance before the European Parliament, Mogherini wants to appear as the person in charge in order to reform the EU strategic approach to foreign policy.(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).