Power Transition from Ashton to Mogherini

mogherini

On November 1st, 2014, the transfer of power from Catherine Ashton to Frederica Mogherini was finally official. Federica Mogherini is the third High Representative (HR), as well referred as EU foreign minister, in EU history. The first HR, Javier Solana of Spain, was appointed in 1999 and remained at the helm for two mandates (1999-2009), followed by Catherine Ashton of the UK for one mandate (2009-2014), to now Federica Mogherini of Italy (2014-).

Before drawing some expectations on what the EU under HR Mogherini may look like, one should reflect on the transition of power from one High Representative to another: Solana to Ashton to Mogherini. Out of the three High Representatives, Mogherini seats comfortably behind Solana in terms of promising situations, meaning EU Member States’ willingness to commit to EU foreign affairs, economic position of the EU, and global forces. Catherine Ashton received the worst situation possible once appointed as HR in 2009. Considering the domestic, regional and international situations, it would have been very difficult for any appointee to make it into a successful tenure.

The Position and Role of the High Representative

The position of High Representative was established at the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997 Solana-fermeture-014and the first High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy was appointed in 1999 after the European Council meeting of Cologne (for more in depth analysis on the position of the HR refer to these books, here and here). The article J.8.3 of the Amsterdam Treaty mentions the position of HR and states that the Presidency will be assisted by the HR. The description of the job requirements was very broad, as the HR ought to contribute with assistance of the Council to the “formulation, preparation, and implementation of policy decisions” on foreign and security policy matters (Official Journal of the European Union 2007: Article J.16). The HR was supposed to increase the cooperation between the various actors in Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), bring coherence in the rotating processes of the six-month presidencies, and to make the EU a more visible international actor.

Until the Treaty of Lisbon (2009), the position of the HR did not evolve institutionally speaking. Javier Solana made his marks all over the position during his tenure. With Lisbon, the new position became the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission. The Lisbon Treaty made the position of HR more complex and as well cross-institutional, as the HR sits now at the Commission and at the Council, whereas before the Treaty of Lisbon, the HR was only sitting at the Secretariat of the Council. The position of the HR is now the bridge between a supranational institution, the Commission, the Member States, the Council, and the institution at the HR’s disposition, the European External Action Service (EEAS). The most important change in the position of the HR is its double-role, supranational and intergovernmental all at the same time. As opposed to her predecessor, HR Mogherini has announced her moving from the EEAS building to the Commission’s building, wherein she will be residing. The Treaty of Lisbon made the position of the HR one of the most powerful and visible figure in the Union.

From Ashton to Mogherini

A vast literature, mostly from media and think tanks, have demonstrated, since her appointment, how Catherine Ashton has been a weak HR and certainly not very savvy in dealing with foreign affairs. Cathy Ashton even describes herself as the “accidental diplomat” (O’Connor 2010). HR Ashton certainly scored some late successes with the agreement in Kosovo (despite the recent scandal over the EU mission in Kosovo) and Iran. For the rest, HR Ashton has been invisible and quiet.  As compared to Federica Mogherini, Catherine Ashton took the helm of European foreign policy at a very difficult time. One should recognize that Ashton faced three fundamental difficulties when appointed HR/VP in 2009.

First, the world markets were at their lowest after the collapse of the global financial markets in 2007. The Eurozone was already feeling the tension and several EU Member States were already showing serious signs of weakness such asPortugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain, formerly known as the PIIGS. The future of the Union looked very bleak at that point and many thought that neither the EU nor the Euro would survive the crisis. The financial crisis, and its consequences on the eurozone, was the first real challenge ever faced by the EU. Many realized the degree of incoherence, unpreparedness in the design of the Union and its monetary union. Ultimately, the CSDP was not the priority for neither the EU nor the Member States. The Union turned into crisis-mode and let the CSDP on the side. The CSDP was after ten years of existence considered a luxury good that Member States could easily dispense themselves from, especially the European powerhouses with effective diplomatic and defense instruments. During the Solana era, Member States were committed to the CSDP experiment and were willing to spend money and contribute in terms of capabilities and humans. This was not the same under Ashton, whom had to deal with less money, less political will, and an messy world order.

Second, Ashton was being appointed right after the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon in December 2009. The Treaty of Lisbon changed a lot the EU in terms of foreign and security policy. First, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) – or foreign policy – and the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) – or European defense – were merged into the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). Second, the Treaty of Lisbon established the European External Action Service (EEAS). Cathy Ashton had one year to design a new institution and make it operational. Third, the position of High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy was transformed into a double-hatted position, the High Representative of European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the European Commission (HR/VP). Prior to Ashton, the HR was simply part of the Secretary of the Council of the EU, now the HR is not only leading a new body, the EEAS, and chairing at the Commission. The double-hatted position merges two contradictory institutional forces, inter-governmentalism and supranationalism.

Las but not least, Cathy Ashton took over European foreign policy after its first and very successful HR Javier Solana. Javier Solana, a savvy Spanish politician, was prior hisCatherine_Ashton_and_solana appointment at the helm of European foreign affairs in 1999, Secretary General of NATO from 1995 to 1999. During his leadership at the head of the Alliance, he oversaw the massive air campaign over Kosovo in 1998 and demonstrated on the international stage his savviness in working with Europe and the US. During his time at the head of European foreign policy, he was the person that pushed the ESDP from its paper-status into a civilian-military instruments seeing its first action in 2003. He has as well axiomatic during the nuclear negotiation with Iran in 2002-03, known as the EU3+1. The +1 being HR Solana, which rose the question of knowing if Solana was speaking in the name of Europe, or simply being an intermediary between the EU3 and the rest of the Union. Last, Solana finally was important in answering Kissinger’s question, “what is the phone number of Europe?”

Yes, Cathy Ashton was not the best HR/VP that European experts were dreaming about. But she embodied what the powerful EU Member States wanted, a leaderless HR/VP shifting the EU from a risk-taking EU into a risk-averse EU. EU Member States, especially France, Germany and the UK, wanted in 2009 to avoid another Solana and settled on the appointment of Ashton. For her defense, as demonstrated above, her set of cards could not really allow her to do anything positive. During her mandate, she illustrated herself more as an administrator than a strategic leader. Her clear achievement, though, is the EEAS, that she was able to create and implement in one year.

A Welcome’s Note

hq_hp_mogherini_enAs opposed to Ashton, Mogherini’ situation is much more promising and could allow her to be an effective HR/VP. She embodies a new generation of European leaders and is from Italy, a founding Member State, that wants to redeem itself after the years of crisis. Mogherini’s experience in foreign affairs is certainly greater than Ashton’s, but lesser than Solana. It will be interesting to see what Mogherini decides to focus on: foreign policy and/or defense. Will she help in strengthening the CSDP – civilian-military instrument -? Or, would she facilitate the transition to a more NATO integrated instrument? In terms of foreign policy issues, she has several important ones in her hands (see the excellent memo by Daniel Keohane, Stefan Lehne, Ulrich Speck, Jan Techau about the challenges facing HR Mogherini):

  • short-term, ebola, the direct threat of the Islamic State (IS), and Eastern violences in Ukraine. They all represent direct threats to the security of the Union.
  • mid-term, stabilizing the neighborhoods (Eastern and Southern) through economic and development assistances. Countries in Northern-Africa and Central Africa are facing serious domestic challenges that could completely destabilize the region. For the Union, it means rise of ethnic violence in Africa, illegal trafficking, rise of mass-migrations, and eventually rise of radical islamism, all these directly threatening the stability of the Union. The CSDP was created for exactly this purpose to stabilize the neighborhoods. Would it become the primary instrument for stabilization, peace-keeping, and institutional solidification?
  • long-term (well beyond her tenure), the survival of European influence in global affairs and the maintenance of its strategic role side by side with new powers like China and Brazil. Ashton did not have a long-term vision, will Mogherini have one? The EU still holds a favorable position in the current global order. Its Member States are key actors in international organizations, with France and Britain at the UN Security Council, with NATO, the WTO, the IMF – Christine Lagarde of France is leading it -, the World Bank and so forth. Multilateralism has always been a core component of European global strategy, now EU Member States have to solidify and empower these international organizations in order to keep them relevant in a more multipolar system. The EU has a role to play in the 21st century, but if it does not secure a seat in this new multipolar global order, it will simply become a second/third rank power.

In any case, Politipond wishes the best of luck to Federica Mogherini. She published on the EEAS website a simple message marking her commencement and calling for a new beginning:

Today we start a new story. The next five years will be challenging, we are all well aware of the difficulties that lie ahead of us. Our part of the world is facing one of the most complex periods of our recent history, still I believe we have all the tools and the capacity to overcome these times of tensions and crisis, and build peace, stability and prosperity all around Europe.
 
It’s up to us and we have great opportunities too. Vision, political will and teamwork can make us shape a much better future. Not only for Europe, but for the rest of the world. Today I start my mandate knowing that I can build on the good lessons we can learn from the past and counting on an excellent team: in the EEAS, in the Commission, in the Council and with all Member States. We know the next five years will be a turning point: we feel the responsibility to make the European dream come true.
 
Generations of Europeans expect from us a new beginning. So, ready to start!
 
Federica Mogherini
 
(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Mogherini’s Choices

Hearing of Commissioners-designate at the European Parliament

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.

Mogherini’s Challenges

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 Catherine_Ashton_and_solanadeserves 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.

Source:  German Marshall Fund. 2014. Transatlantic Trends. Key Finding 2014. p.16
Source: German Marshall Fund. 2014. Transatlantic Trends. Key Finding 2014. p.16

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).

Summer 2014 – The Melting of Western Influence?

Credit: Vieuws.eu
Credit: Vieuws.eu

Summer 2014 has been non-stop, and it is not even over yet. It started on a positive note with the success of European soccer teams in Brazil – and France even displayed a good team and produced creative soccer -. But the summer quickly turned sour for Western powers.

Since June a series of crises broke out. The conflict in Ukraine increased in intensity, while the West remained cautious on sanctioning Russia. At this point, most analysts and reporters thought that Putin had won the war. Putin had already stolen annexed Crimea and the pro-Russian militiamen were solidly backed by Moscow. It was until the pro-Russian militiamen brought down a commercial airplane flying over Ukraine and killing over 290 civilians, most of them being Dutch. Such event was a turning point in the conflict

Credit: European Pressphoto Agency
Credit: European Pressphoto Agency

in Ukraine. EU Member States finally agreed on tougher sanctions against Russia. Weeks later, Moscow responded by banning the imports of EU foods. Since then, Moscow has tried to maintained its support to pro-Russian militiamen with the progression of a ‘civilian convoy’ for humanitarian purposes sent by Moscow. With the progression of the tensions in Ukraine, Germany has progressively shifted its pro-Russian foreign policy and has emerged as a leader against Russia. For instance, as a reaction to the Russian convoy, Berlin has pledged more than $690 million for reconstruction and aid to Ukraine. Moscow may have been able to keep the fight alive in Eastern Ukraine, but seems to have lost an ally in the West.

The second main crisis has been the intensification of the ebola virus disease (EVD) affecting Western African nations. In recent days, reports have emerged underscoring that the outbreak has been underestimated. Even tough, the EVD does not directly threaten the citizens of the Euro-Atlantic community, it has become a serious issue for the West. Starting in Guinea, and then in Liberia and Sierra Leone, it has now spread to Nigeria. The main concern has always been Nigeria, one of the most populous and developed countries in Africa. The recent cases in Nigeria have been a cause of concern for Western powers considering the deep connections between Nigeria and the West. The EVD becomes of global nature due to the complexity of the globalized world we live in. Globalization has made the EVD an eventual threat to most world nations.

The third main crisis has been the solidification of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq. The rise of ISIS, a radical Sunni Muslim terrorist group, has been progressive and it has benefitted from the vicious war taking place in Syria since 2011 (read here a previous analysis on the issue). The civil war in Syria was a piece of the Arab Spring puzzle with popular opposition to the regime of Bashard al-Assad. The members of the Euro-Atlantic community, at the

Credit: Reuters
Credit: Reuters

exception of the French, were reluctant to either arm anti-government groups by fear of arming extremist groups and/or launch airstrikes against Assad’s forces. ISIS has grown and strengthened itself in fighting government forces. Early summer 2014, in June, ISIS started its invasion of Iraq. It has received some assistance by Iraqi sunni, that have felt undermined by the former shiite government of al-Maliki. Since, ISIS has used violent and vicious tactics in order to strengthen its control over its controlled territories. In the past week, the US has re-launch military interventions in Iraq through airstrike bombings, arming Kurdish and Iraqi forces. However, US Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, underscored that “the defeat of ISIL is not only going to come at the hands of airstrikes. It’s bigger than just a military operation.” He added that in order to defeat ISIS, the US will have to go to Syria. Such vision is increasingly been shared in Washington. For instance, Steven Simon, a former White House adviser to Mr. Obama on the Middle East, argued that “common sense suggests you need to hit them in Syria.”

Last but not least, the war in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas, launched by Israel on July 8th, has already caused high level of destruction in Gaza and heavy civilian casualties with over 2,100 deaths. The war has underscored the diverging strategic positions of the members of the Euro-Atlantic community. In large EU Member States, populations and governments have expressed their concerns regarding Israel’s actions. The US, historically a close ally of Israel, has not budged its position. In recent days, talks have increased in order to agree on a United Nations Security Council Resolutions including the following conditions: “prevent Hamas and other militant groups from rearming, give the Palestinian Authority control, relax the Israeli embargo, reopen all border crossings and expedite reconstruction.” In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, titled Club Med for Terrorists, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN underscores that the problems in the Middle East are all financed by Qatar. He wrote “Given Qatar’s considerable affluence and influence, this is an uncomfortable prospect for many Western nations, yet they must recognize that Qatar is not a part of the solution but a significant part of the problem.” The war between Hamas and Israel is going much further than Gaza.

The end of Western domination?

Let’s be clear, none of the crises analyzed above have suddenly appeared; they have all been slowing progressing and evolving. It is just that Western powers have become some type of risk aversion and have implemented a certain status-quo in avoiding to directly confront complex crises and issues. The US certainly leads the way in its ‘wait and see’ strategy. So, what can be said about the handling of these crises by Western powers? It surely looks like the early 1990s all over again. Even though it is debatable to justify the real control of Western powers on all foreign events, summer 2014 has underscored the inabilities of western powers to shaping and containing them. The US and its European partners – Britain, France, Germany, Poland, Italy among others – have simply been trying to catch up.

In the case of the US, to paraphrase Hillary Clinton, the Obama’s foreign policy approach

Credit: AP
Credit: AP

of ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ may have been a root cause of the limited US influence in shaping events. She has been much more vocal in advocating for a more interventionist foreign policy. She argued during her recent interview with Goldberg of the Atlantic, that “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

Summer 2014 could be identified along two lines: either, it is an anomaly, meaning it just happens that crises followed one another; or, is it the continuation of the sliding process of Western grip over the international system? I will tend to go with option 2, Western decline.

In order to look at the question of Western decline, one should look at two dimensions: external and internal dynamics. Externally, the succession of crises and western inabilities to shape the outcomes and/or prevent them are obvious and were analyzed above. Internally, both the US and European powers/and EU have been facing deep political, societal and economical challenges. This accumulation of domestic crises and tensions contribute to affecting the global aura of the West. Even among the Euro-Atlantic community, its members are unable to actually find an agreement on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) (see here a comprehensive book on the topic). This agreement seen as a way to relaunch the transatlantic economy has become a tense political fight between the 29 + 1 actors (28 EU Member States, the US + the European Commission). The difficult negotiations are affecting the global credibility of the Euro-Atlantic community as its members cannot agree on the values, norms and identities supposedly shared and exported. As demonstrated below, the transatlantic soft power is clearly loosing its grip and credibility.

Domestically, the US appears very weak. Between a blocked government, a lame duck president, a weak economic recovery, and tense societal relationships among the different segments of the population, the US is facing serious challenges. The debates of inequalities, minority rights, healthcare, religion, immigration, education and economic changes are slowly affecting the identity of the US. The US, as most European countries, is on the brink of chaos at any moment. The violence in Ferguson, after the death of an African-American man shot by a white cop, have taken the nation by surprise. The emotions around the situation in Ferguson are powerful as such event is underlining a dark reality of inequalities and racial tensions to most Americans. Once again, Richard Haass was correct in claiming that foreign policy starts at home.

Across the pond, the European economic situation is worrisome and has now led to serious internal challenges within each Member State. Experts, like Michael Heise, even wonder if Europe is not entering into its ‘lost decade’ the same way Japan went through the 1990s. European economic growth remains anemic. Germany has maintained its status of the strong man of Europe, but its economy is starting to contract, while the French economy is stagnating (ant the government is unable to govern, read here) and the Italian is in recession. “GDP fell in Germany, the biggest,” according to the Economist, “and Italy, the third largest, by 0.2%; France, the second largest economy, stagnated.” The consequences of this continuous weak economic outlook in Europe, causing high unemployment levels, increasing inequalities and affecting the moral of Europeans, have fostered this ramping euro-skeptic sentiments. Additionally, the message of European unity is not even present in Brussels, as illustrated by the difficulties to select the next top EU leaders. In this context, it is difficult to imagine a strong Europe willing to shape and influence events. The EU has always lacked hard power, but domestic tensions within the EU have affected the credibility of its soft power.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).