Federica Mogherini has been appointed EU’s foreign policy chief in Brussels today and many people have already argued she is not right for the job. Lacking experience and leniency towards Russia are the two biggest issues raised by her detractors.
Over the last few months her candidacy sparked strong, negative reactions from many Eastern European leaders – with Poland and the Baltic states at the forefront – in a sort of unjustified paranoia towards her political views and aims as Italian Foreign Minister.
It is true that one of her first official trips, shortly after being appointed FM by Italy PM Matteo Renzi early this year, has been to Moscow, where she met with Vladimir Putin to discuss the South Stream gas pipeline project.
And it is true that Italy has a long list of economic interests at stake with Russia, the first and most important of which is the oil and gas sector. Italy is heavily reliant on Russian gas. In fact Italy is the second largest natural gas importer in Europe, after Germany. Imported gas from Russia accounted for 36% of Italy’s natural gas consumption in 2013.
And yes, it is true that former PM Silvio Berlusconi has friendly ties with Mr Putin and signed with him countless economic deals when he was running the country which may put Mogherini, and indeed Italy, in a tricky position when it comes to face the Kremlin.
Yet I believe this is – and will be – a very different story.
It doesn’t take much to understand why. Once you do some research and learn about her past, pretty much all those concerns disappear. Or at least they should.
Criticism is a legitimate sentiment, especially when it comes from those countries who have moved West in the last thirty years and have mixed feelings about Russia and its past. Still I strongly believe that skepticism should be based on facts, rather than assumptions.
Mrs Mogherini, 41, has been involved in foreign affairs for over twenty years, both at home and abroad. She graduated from Rome’s Sapienza University with a degree in political science after writing a thesis on politics and Islam during an internship at the Institute for Research and Studies on the Arab World in Aix-en-Provence, France.
As a member of the Socialist Youth group she was responsible for the Foreign Affairs office. When she joins the Italian Democratic Party’s secretariat she’s only 34 – almost a record in Italy – and she is not afraid to take responsibility of the International Affairs and Institutional Reform committee.
Elected in Parliament in 2008, and then re-elected five years later, she was a member of the Committee on Defence and a member of the delegation to the Assembly of the Council of Europe.
In 2013 she was elected Chair of the Italian Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO, where she coordinated the Inter-Parliamentary Group for Development Cooperation.
She is also a member of the Institute for Foreign Affairs, the Council for the United States and Italy and a fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
She is a representative of the Council of the European Leadership Network for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation and of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation.
Quite a remarkable resume if you ask me.
Finally, for those claiming she will be somehow soft on Putin and leaning towards the pro-Russia side, I went through her personal blog the other day and I found out a little known fact: she decided to open it in 2006, the day after she went to a Bruce Springsteen’s gig and felt the need to write about “what America means to me, a country with a complicated past but one of the greatest country in the world nonetheless”. The complicated past bit she refers to is the Bush administration and the Iraq War, which she opposed to in 2003.
I also discovered she went to the US in the summer of 2008 to follow Barack Obama’s presidential primaries more closely and during her time there she wrote her impressions about him and the Democratic Party. More recently she wrote a comment on Ukraine and accused Putin of “reviving an attitude of regional hegemony and competition with the West”.
By reading those pages one would almost be tempted to say she might be even too pro-US rather than the other way around.