Sunday, August 31, 2014

EU: Federica Mogherini to Succeed UK's Catherine Ashton as EU Foreign Policy Chief

According to The Associated Press, European Union (EU) leaders on Saturday (August 30) selected Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, 41, to become the 28-nation bloc's top diplomat for the next five years.

Right out of the box, the first challenge for the new Italian Foreign Minister will be the escalating dogfight between Mother Russia and the less formidable Ukraine.

"Federica Mogherini will be the new face of the EU in our day-to-day dealings with our partners in the world," outgoing EU summit chairman Herman Van Rompuy said. Incumbent EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, whose term ends in October 2014, has been a frequent interlocutor for US secretaries of state and chairs the negotiations on Iran's nuclear program.

Mogherini, a center-left politician, has been Italy's foreign minister only since February 2014, drawing criticism that she lacks experience. A first attempt to secure Mogherini's nomination in June 2014, failed amidst resistance from Eastern European leaders.

Addressing the criticism, Mogherini said she will draw on her experience as foreign minister of a Group of Seven country and her previous experience as lawmaker.

"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.

The EU leaders, Van Rompuy said, are "convinced that she will prove a skillful and steadfast mediator, negotiator and defender of Europeans place in the world."

The highly visible job as EU foreign policy chief entails flying globally and hobnobbing with the great and powerful to deal with anything from the fighting in eastern Ukraine to the crises in the Middle East.

However, the EU's top diplomat often has had little leeway because the bloc's member nations jealously guarded foreign policy as a national matter, leaving the foreign policy chief the role to hammer out compromise positions.

COMMENT: Jan Techau, director of the Carnegie Europe think-tank in Brussels, said earlier this week the new EU foreign policy chief "has neither the battalions nor the budget to single-handedly make foreign policy," but must do a better job than Ashton at coordinating the EU's different departments and mustering the courage to oppose powerful member states when necessary.

"The EU needs a unified foreign policy," Techau said.

Mogherini vowed she will work relentlessly to promote European projects on the international stage, while fighting off crises or seeds of discord that could undermine the bloc's success.

"We are a dream come true, having to be careful that the dream doesn't turn into a nightmare," she said.

The EU leaders also elected Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk to succeed European Council President Herman Van Rompuy in December as EU summit chairman and behind-the-scenes broker of compromises among national leaders.

The 57-year-old Tusk, a historian and talented speaker, has led Poland's center-right coalition government since 2007, overseeing continuous economic growth.

In Poland, leaders from across the political spectrum expressed pride in Tusk's appointment, saying it was in recognition of the country's economic success and position in Europe during a time of economic crisis elsewhere on the continent.

But Tusk's new job means a new prime minister must be selected. Parliamentary Speaker Ewa Kopacz and Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak are among possible contenders.

To make the change, Tusk will need to resign and dismiss his Cabinet in the coming weeks to pave the way for President Bronislaw Komorowski to name a new PM a new prime minister who will be tasked with composing a new government team from the current ruling coalition.