Federica Mogherini's impossible job

Federica Mogherini has one of the most difficult jobs in the world. She's the foreign policy supremo for the disfunctional EU. Meanwhile her country, Italy, is getting increasingly Eurosceptic

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Federica Mogherini
Timwork
Tim Hedges
On 27 January 2016 08:24

At a joint press conference with an Iranian delegate at the time of the recent international accord, you could catch a glimpse of a slight woman speaking perfect English, representing the European Union.

Her name is Federica Mogherini and she has one of the most difficult jobs in the world: she is High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, in other words the EU Foreign Minister.

Just one aspect of the difficulty of her job is that she had to persuade the world that the EU had any serious relevance to international negotiations with Iran, except perhaps to have been bussed in to agree with America. If she failed in this, it cannot be held against her.

The EU’s lack of credibility in foreign affairs goes back to before she was born. Mogherini has to be counted as a fairly good thing: an Italian success story.

Federica Mogherini came to prominence with the new prime minister Matteo Renzi. She had made her way In the traditional manner of a political insider, from being a communist in her youth to joining the centre left when communism collapsed. Becoming an MP in 2008, she was on the staff of several Democratic bigwigs, finally that of Matteo Renzi when he became leader of the party.

Renzi came to power in February 2014 with a  cabinet containing 50 percent women and Mogherini got the job of Foreign Minister. She was in fact Italy’s third woman in this post, which not many countries can say, but the shortest lived.

Her next step gives us a good insight into how the European Union works. Most countries covet the most high profile posts they think they might achieve in the Commission. An exception is Britain, which despite being a large and important nation, tends to offer up any old freebie merchant who can subscribe to the European ideal without crossing their fingers.

A good example is our present representative Jonathan Lord Hill who made such a poor impression in the confirmation hearings they took away half his job from the start. Even less successful had been our previous offering, Baroness Ashton, who as the first EU Foreign Minister, made as much a hash of it as most people would have thought possible.

Matteo Renzi, though, decided to set his sights high and began lobbying and schmoozing as soon as he came to office. He had a couple of things going for him, the first of which was that he wasn’t Silvio Berlusconi. Silvio had terrified the Commission with his unpredictability and some dangerous Eurosceptic tendencies so they got rid of him with the help of the then President, former communist Giorgio Napolitano.

Renzi, by contrast, pronounced regularly on what a good European he was. He promised to reduce Italy’s budget deficit to within the 3 percent figure the Germans seem happy with and to reform Italy’s labour laws.

Suddenly Italy was a better European than France, and Renzi looked like Wolfgang Schaeuble in an Italian suit. So with some reluctance the Germans gave the nod to the inexperienced Mogherini -- who had had less than a year in a government post -- to get one of the top jobs on offer.

Happy days! Were they only 15 months ago? Things have changed in Europe since then and she knows that if the post were on offer now she wouldn’t get it.

At home, Renzi finds himself outflanked by eurosceptics and the public mood turning away from the traditional pro-Brussels comfort space. The euro hating Northern League and 5 star movement have been doing very well in regional elections.

To catch the zeitgeist, he has started to argue against the German position on refugees, where Italy feels let down by the rest of Europe. He has vetoed the payment of €3 billion to Turkey for taking the millions of incomers and has publicly argued with Jean.Claude Juncker which is like criticising the Pope in a catholic church. Worse, probably.

Finally, Renzi has withdrawn Italy’s much loved ambassador to the EU on the grounds that he has gone native, and replaced him with the more pragmatic former Sky executive Carlo Calenda.

So poor Federica Mogherini is left in a difficult position. She must deal with the refugee crisis where there is no agreement on how to proceed. She must garner support from her international colleagues when her home country is making things more difficult. She must deal with the intractable problem of the Middle East, aware that Europe really counts for nothing.

As I said, it is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. At least it is well paid.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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