Poland, Baltic states hesitant over Mogherini

  
Federica Mogherini (right), Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, speaks with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Brussels, 3 March 2014 [Photo: The Council of the European Union]
Federica Mogherini (right), Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, speaks with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Brussels, 3 March. [The Council of the European Union]

Poland and the Baltic states are uneasy about Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini's bid to be European Union foreign policy chief, concerned that she may be soft on Russia, but look unlikely to block her, diplomats said on Monday (14 July).

Officials of the four countries declined to comment in public on their reservations about the appointment, due to be debated at an EU leaders' summit in Brussels on Wednesday.

But Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite made clear the former Soviet Baltic states are looking for the successor to Britain's Catherine Ashton to develop a firm common line with Moscow over its annexation of Crimea and destabilisation of eastern Ukraine.

"Our main principle is that the person who will be appointed to the foreign policy position has to at least try to be neutral in regard to various differing opinions, and coordinate opinions of everyone - not provide a narrow or very controversial position, especially on Ukraine," she told reporters in Vilnius.

Baltic diplomats said Mogherini, who has only been foreign minister since February, lacked experience of eastern Europe - the EU's biggest current geopolitical challenge - and had sent some questionable signals during the Ukraine crisis.

They complained that Rome had been reluctant to impose EU sanctions on Moscow over its behaviour in Ukraine - an accusation denied by a source in the Italian Foreign Ministry.

"We have always voted in line with the rest of the EU in support of the sanctions," the source said.

Opposition to her candidacy was "part of the normal process for a candidate in a complex landscape," he said, adding that Italy's position toward Russia had been in practice very similar to that of EU powers Germany and France.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said the 10 former communist central and eastern European countries that joined the bloc in 2004 and 2007 want at least one of the top EU jobs to go to someone from their region.

Dialogue with Moscow

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has been lobbying fellow leaders actively in support of Mogherini, 41, a close Socialist ally, making phone calls to several of his peers at the weekend, aides said.

Renzi's top official on EU policy, Undersecretary for European Affairs Sandro Gozi, defended her against criticism from eastern Europe.

"Federica Mogherini has defended the Italian position and maintained always, even in the most difficult moments, a line of dialogue open with Moscow, which is a position that is in line with the European Union, and in my mind it is a position that demonstrates great common sense," he said in comments he published on his own Facebook page.

A Baltic official said it was unfortunate that Mogherini had chosen to make her first visit on as holder of the EU's rotating presidency to Moscow.

In Warsaw, Polish officials declined public comment. Poland has pushed its own foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, for the EU foreign policy job, but he is seen by some west European governments as too confrontational with Russia.

People close to Poland's governing coalition said Mogherini's stance on Russia was a problem for them.

"Bearing in mind Italy's position on the Ukrainian crisis and the generally soft attitude of Italy towards Russia it will be very difficult for us to support ... Mogherini," said a member of parliament for Prime Minister Donald Tusk's Civil Platform party, speaking on condition of anonymity.

An EU diplomat in Brussels, reflecting the mood among central and east European countries, said: "We need someone with gravitas. Mogherini is not that person. She is a repetition of Ashton. And we need someone else. She lacks experience."

However, the misgivings were unlikely to result in her candidacy being blocked, diplomats said, asking not to be named.

One eastern official said his country was "not opposing (Mogherini), but not happy".

Timeline: 
  • 15 July: Parliament formally approves Juncker as next Commission President.
  • 16 July: EU leaders meet in Brussels to discuss candidates to succeed Herman Van Rompuy as Council President and Catherine Ashton as EU foreign policy chief.
  • >> Read our LinksDossier EU Top Jobs: Who's next? and topic page EU Top Jobs
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Comments

Eurochild's picture

Aside from being soft on Russia, what exactly is Mogherini strong on?

But, ho hum, although an important position, High Representative is not as crucial as it could be. Mogherini, following her yippy yappy boss, will probably make lots of sounds at first, along the lines of "we must make hard efforts to seek peace", but never actually offering any vision or strategy, let alone deep understanding of an issue. After which, the realities of the foreign policy will become more apparent to her and she'll huff and puff a little. Really, how much more simplistic can you get than "Federica Mogherini has defended the Italian position and maintained always, even in the most difficult moments, a line of dialogue open with Moscow, which is a position that is in line with the European Union, and in my mind it is a position that demonstrates great common sense"?

Who has advocated cutting off dialogue with Moscow? Which "difficult moments" did Mogherini have to deal with? And, pointing to her "support" of the lowest common denominator of "in line with the European Union" and showing "common sense" is hardly confirmation that she is able to handle the complexities of early 21st-century global relations.

As for "Federica Mogherini has defended the Italian position", that's exactly what we're worried about - that she's going to represent a national position than a European one, and a national position that only puts its own narrow interests first before standing up for the values of Europe.

Other than that, we'll have to save the potential of creating a more coherent global role the EU for another day. At least this will stop Italy from trying to block other, more important developments in the EU, such as a common fiscal policy, while stroking Renzi's ego that Italy got a "top job", which might at least shut him up for a while.

Gerry's picture

At some stage, Europe will have to become a real nation. Politics will become as serious as survival, and the appointment of new commissioners will no longer be treated as some sort of hobby activity. The parliament itself will become a lean, mean fighting machine where niceties such as commissioner appointments by gender or nationality may still be observed, but are no longer a predominant consideration. Sikorsky for foreign minister!

GeorgeMc's picture

Sikorsky? The last thing the world needs is another Bullingdon Club member poncing around the world making a idiot of himself.

On your prediction for Europe and the Parliament, good luck with that one. Have you ever considered that you may have a career as a comedy fiction writer ahead of you?

kataak's picture

His surname is Sikorski, not Sikorsky. Anglosphere and its ignorance...

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