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The High Representative of Everything and Nothing, The Art of Moving Mountains

Mogherini during a press conference on august 30th, the day of her appointment. Source: European External Action Service, Flickr
Mogherini during a press conference on August 30th, the day of her appointment. Source: European External Action Service, Flickr

On August 30th, the Italian Foreign Minister and Commission candidate, Mrs. Frederica Mogherini, was appointed High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (commonly known as simply the High Representative). Taking office on November 1st, Mrs. Mogherini faces tremendous challenges ahead. With little foreign policy experience, will she be the one to breathe new life into the tired EU foreign policy cooperation?

Prior to being appointed High Representative by the European Council, Mrs. Mogherini, the 41-year-old Rome-born left-wing politician had been the Foreign Minister of Italy for only six months. As the third woman and second youngest on the post, she was described as embodying the change promised by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. On July 4th, Der Spiegel International published an article after her name was thrown into the race for one of Europe’s top jobs. Apart from cliché descriptions of women with power – such as the color and lengths of her hair, her choice of jewelry and family situation – the distinguished newspaper painted a portrait of a woman lacking extensive experience but with a steady confidence and the determination to put Italy back on the map of world politics.

Now, the situation is different. Mrs. Mogherini has moved from Rome to Brussels and will soon be heading the European External Action Service responsible for 3500 employees, a budget of roughly €489 million (2012) and well over a hundred diplomatic delegations around the world. In terms of actual policy, she will be responsible for conducting the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and contributing to the development of that policy area. That is, to say the least, a giant task for a person limited in power by twenty-eight governments fighting tooth and nail to steer the policies in the direction of their respective national interests; whereas the Treaty of the European Union sets no limit to what the Member States can do in matters of foreign and security policy, the consensus based decision-making process requires the active or silent acceptance of all Member States.

A complete paper list of the challenges facing the High Representative and the CFSP would probably require the deforestation of the entire planet. In addition to addressing the more acute matters, such as the armed conflict in Ukraine and the rise of ISIL, Mrs. Mogherini is self-tasked with shaping, what she referred to as “a real common policy”. In her opening statement at the hearing in the European Parliament on October 7, Mrs. Mogherini outlined her vision to end the turf battle between the European Council, the Commission and the European Parliament, as well as coordinating “all actions and all policies that have an external impact”, mentioning trade, energy, migration and climate policy.

Catherine Ashton, former High Representative as of November 1 when Mogherini takes office. Source: European External Action Service, Flickr
Catherine Ashton, former High Representative as of November 1 when Mogherini takes office. Source: European External Action Service, Flickr

These are indeed tremendous challenges, given that the High Representative has no legal right to manage that herself. Shaping a “real common policy” requires the active or silent support of twenty-eight member states. That is in addition to the role of trying to coordinate policies between the Commissioners responsible for the aforementioned trade, energy, migration and climate issues. Thus, achieving results is highly dependent on the personal skills of the High Representative, as argued by Josef Janning, Senior Policy Fellow at the pan-European think tank European Council on Foreign Relations. With no other instruments at hand, the ability to communicate and work strategically with national foreign ministers will be crucial for the amount of respect and actual power given to the office. In order to do so, as Mr. Janning notes cynically, the High Representative must “manage the substantial egos in the Council and EU institutions”.

Many people argue that a comprehensive strategic approach is necessary for the European Union to play an active role in world politics; modernizing the 2003 European Security Strategy (ESS) would be considered a giant leap forward. Among others, The German Institute for International and Security Affairs and The Swedish Institute For International Affairs have argued in favor of revising the dated ESS. Interestingly, this document was originally adopted because the previous High Representative Javier Solana was able to take advantage of the momentum created by the US invasion of Iraq and the resulting fragmentation between the EU Member States. Today, with regards to the situation in Ukraine and the Middle East, High Representative Mogherini holds the potential to deliver a new game changing security strategy. Arguably, such a strategy is crucial for her ambition to shape “a real common policy”, merging traditional foreign and security policies with trade, energy, migration and climate issues into one single document.

Finally, there is no way of knowing beforehand how and if Mrs. Mogherini will be successful in her new position. Though she arguably lacks extensive foreign policy experience, whether she will be the High Representative of Everything or the High Representative of Nothing will depend on her personal ability to bring together the many actors that make up the Common Foreign and Security Policies within the European Union. Getting twenty-eight sovereign states to put their heads together and collectively address the challenges ahead is the art of moving mountains: it is impossible to do all at once, but skillfully carving out piece after piece is in no way impossible.

Jonathan Lundell

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