The squabbling over the European Union’s top posts continued during a leader’s summit on Wednesday, notably over the frontrunner for the position of foreign affairs chief, Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini. Like the newly appointed European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, Mogherini is facing heated opposition as she aims for the bloc’s top foreign policy job. (Juncker secured his post Tuesday, despite a campaign led by British Prime Minister David Cameron to block his nomination.)
VISUAL CONTEXT: Bureaucracy in Brussels
A rising star in Italian politics, alongside another young, charismatic politician, Prime Minister Matteo Renzo, who appointed her earlier this year, Mogherini’s credentials have nonetheless been called into question. The Wall Street Journal notes: “there is nothing in her résumé that one could point to as a crucible of leadership.” Leaders in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland, in particular, oppose the Italian minister’s appointment due to her lack of experience in Eastern Europe, arguing that the Italian foreign minister – who’s only been in office six months – will be ill equipped to develop a tough and cohesive line on the Ukraine crisis. Indeed, much of the Baltic states’ hesitation over Mogherini stems from her perceived soft stance towards Russia. Working against the Italian candidate is a recent trip to Moscow and conciliatory statements about Ukraine reportedly made to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavror, i.e., “[Italy] will do our best during the presidency in the E.U. to help find a mutually acceptable solution.”
Despite the concerns in Brussels, where Juncker himself is rumored to have misgivings, Mogherini is on track to nab the foreign affairs post. The Italian politician has Renzi’s firm backing, as well as the support of many of Europe’s Socialist leaders, namely French President Francois Hollande. If, however, the E.U. Parliament’s center-right faction succeeds at its last-ditch attempt to block Mogherini’s nomination, Europe could see Kristalina Georgieva, the Bulgarian Humanitarian Aid Commissioner supported by Juncker, replace current foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton instead. While Georgieva isn’t as great a hardliner as say Sweden’s Carl Bindt, also in the running, it’s safe to say she will be less accommodating than her Italian rival.
The implications here are huge. Juncker is set to take over the most important job in the E.U., but his foreign affairs chief will wield broad influence as well. Ashton’s disparate missions over the past year alone have yielded diplomatic successes ranging from a rapprochement between bitter rivals Serbia and Kosovo, which could ease the former’s accession to the E.U., and an unprecedented deal between the West and Iran over its nuclear program. As Europe’s top diplomats wrangle over the next foreign affairs leader, it’s worth noting that Ashton’s own nomination was met tepidly – and not without some outcry over her inexperience in foreign policy.