New foreign affairs chief inexperienced

Mogherini takes on EU brief with little experience

Federica Mogherini, who has been nominated as successor for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, whose term ends on October 31st. Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

Federica Mogherini, who has been nominated as successor for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, whose term ends on October 31st. Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

 

Federica Mogherini, the new EU foreign affairs chief, represents the best and the worst of contemporary Italian politics. In a country that for so long has been dominated by a self-referential, all-male gerontocracy, Mogherini (41) represents a breath of fresh air.

It could be said of Italy’s youngest foreign minister since Mussolini that at least she has been appointed to a foreign policy role for which she has long prepared. For 11 years, she has been a foreign affairs “expert” within Italy’s governing Democratic Party.

As she proved in her Saturday press conference in Brussels, she also speaks excellent English, which cannot be said of many of her Italian peers or of the new European Council president, Polish prime minster Donald Tusk. Her ability to speak both English and French will prove invaluable when meetings with world leaders.

On the negative side, however, and as has been widely underlined all summer long by the diplomatic community, she steps into this potentially huge job with little experience.

Until prime minister Matteo Renzi unexpectedly appointed her foreign minister in February, she was almost totally unknown inside Italy, let alone within the EU, and had had no previous government experience. At that time, many expected Renzi to confirm Emma Bonino in the role.

Since joining the centre-left youth movement Sinistra Giovanile in 1996, she has walked the walk of the aspiring party hack, a backroom figure who has followed the metamorphosis of Italy’s one-time PCI (Communist Party) from Democratic Left to the current PD.

Critics claim, too, that in recent years she has switched loyalties, attaching herself to five centre-left leaders. Elected to parliament in 2008 and 2013, on a “blocked list” basis which sees the deputy effectively nominated by the party, not by the electorate, she knows little about door-to-door canvassing. That, however, applies to almost the entire Italian political class, such is the slick nature of Italy’s current (Silvio Berlusconi-inspired) electoral legislation.

Despite the fact that she has two young children, Caterina (nine) and Marta (four), she has an enviable parliamentary attendance rate of 98.2 per cent in the current legislature.

In a parliament where numbers like that normally refer to the absentee rate, that would seem to confirm her reputation as a serious, well-prepared and hardworking politician. However, as foreign minister, she has thus far done little or nothing that could be called groundbreaking.

Mogherini’s appointment has been seen in Italy as a major success for Renzi, who has apparently overcome reservations, not only about her inexperience but also those of East Europe that, as the foreign minister of a state heavily dependent on imported Russian energy, she is too soft on Russia. That may be.

In the meantime, Europe is about to find out whether she is “inexperienced” or merely “untested”.