Socialists back Mogherini for EU foreign affairs chief

  
Federica Mogherini. Athens, February 2014. [GreeceMFA/Flickr]

Socialist Prime Ministers are meeting today (16 July) to give their support for Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini to become the next EU foreign affairs chief, ahead of an EU summit where at least four Eastern European countries are expected to object to her candidacy.

European Socialists are backing Mogherini to become the next EU foreign affairs chief, the leader of the S&D group in the European Parliament Gianni Pittella said yesterday.

Sergei Stanishev, President of the Party of European Socialists (PES), is hosting a pre-summit meeting today in Brussels. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Belgian Prime Minister Elio di Rupo, Austrian Prime Minister Werner Fayman, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Bulgarian Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski and Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanović have all confirmed their attendance.

Stanishev, a former Bulgarian Prime Minister, told the Bulgarian press in Strasbourg yesterday that he had written letters to the Socialist heads of state and government, asking them to nominate Socialists for commissioners. Thus, he made it plain that he didn’t support the candidacy of Kristalina Georgieva, the current Bulgarian Humanitarian Aid Commissioner, who appears to be favoured by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Georgieva, a former World Bank vice president, has no party affiliation, but she was appointed five years ago by the then Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, whose GERB party is EPP-affiliated.

>> Read: Juncker tries hard to get Georgieva on his team

Mogherini, 41, is front-runner for the foreign policy post, although Poland and Baltic states have misgivings about her suitability, seeing her as inexperienced and too soft on Russia in the Ukraine crisis.

>> Read: Poland, Baltic states hesitant over Mogherini

EPP leaders will also meet for a pre-summit, with 12 heads of state and government confirmed.

At the summit itself, which will take the form of a dinner, EU leaders are also likely to discuss further penalties against Russia for its role in Ukraine, although diplomats cautioned that any such measures were unlikely to extend to full economic sanctions.

Officials quoted by Reuters said that in spite of the fact that EU leaders will meet to discuss a number of key appointments, including the successor to Council President Herman Van Rompuy, it is expected that they would only decide on the next foreign affairs chief.

Officials cautioned that more talks lie ahead over jobs that may include an influential permanent head of the group of euro zone finance ministers.

"I wouldn't expect a package deal," said one official with knowledge of the talks. "I think they will only agree on the High Representative [foreign affairs], which is a crucial part of the puzzle. The aim is to finalise by the end of July."

Gender balance

The jobs selection is delicate given the wide disparity of views across the 28 countries in the European Union, an uneasy alliance spanning Britain, where Eurosceptics want to quit the bloc, to Greece, which narrowly avoided leaving.

Other key posts at the European Commission, which proposes and enforces laws for 500 million Europeans, include the commissioners in charge of economic affairs, competition, trade, the internal market and energy policy.

Juncker, who won a broad investiture vote in the European Parliament yesterday, will attend the summit as president-elect before composing his team in early August from candidates put forward by national governments.

>> Read: Parliament elects ‘politically ecumenical’ Juncker as Commission President

Politics as well as skills and experience will determine his picks, which have to balance gender, party affiliation, small and large countries, and equal geographic representation, throughout Europe.

Britain faces an uphill struggle to secure an important position for its nominee, the little-known lawmaker Jonathan Hill, who backs Prime Minister David Cameron's strategy of trying to renegotiate London's EU membership terms before a promised 2017 referendum on whether to stay in the bloc.

Cameron, who unsuccessfully fought Juncker's appointment, named more hardline Eurosceptics to his cabinet in a reshuffle on Tuesday, including new foreign minister Philip Hammond. Hill appeared to have been dispatched to Brussels from the House of Lords largely to avoid a parliamentary by-election.

>> Read: Cameron names pro-EU lord who didn’t want the job as Commissioner

Britain may be able to claim a partial victory if Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, 47, a social democrat with good ties to Cameron, became the next president of the European Council, chairing the summit meetings of leaders.

But while she has broad support, France may oppose her appointment because she is not from a eurozone country. Reportedly, the French Socialists don’t even see her as one of their political kind.

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