Amid growing tensions with Russia, and in the context of last week’s NATO Summit, the Heads of State and Government of the European Union late last month appointed Federica Mogherini — the current Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs — as their new Secretary of State, known as the EU’s High Representative.
Federica Mogherini will take up the post in early November, following a confirmation vote by the European Parliament. While still only 41, Mogherini already has an impressive political and foreign affairs background. She was first elected to parliament in 2008, and has served on the secretariat of the Italian Defence Committee, has been a delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and chair of the Italian Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO.
A long time advocate of transatlantic dialogues, and a frequent collaborator with the Center for American Progress, Mogherini agreed share her views on the current challenges facing the European Union on its eastern border, in North Africa and the Middle East, as well as her vision for how to improve transatlantic co-operation and the Union’s relationship with NATO coming out of the recently concluded summit in Celtic Manor, Wales. The following interview was conducted via email and phone and Mogherini’s answers have been edited for grammatical clarity:
Prior to your selection as Europe’s High Representative, some members of the EU had raised concerns that you would not be tough enough on Russia. How do you answers these charges, and what do you think of the EU’s role is in the current crisis?
My first official visit as foreign minister was in Ukraine, before Moscow. As foreign minister, I have always backed the EU’s approach regarding sanctions on Russia. We all believe that there is no military solution to this crisis, so our reaction needs to be strong on the economic sanctions and open on political dialogue.
Such a dialogue and diplomacy — alongside sanctions — is the only way to achieve a resolution of the Ukrainian crisis. We have to pursue de-escalation as a means to reestablish the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, and to call Russia to its regional and global responsibilities. Moscow has currently chosen not to be a strategic partner, but we all know that geography makes it a strategic country for Europe, for the Middle East, and so also for the US.
This week’s NATO Summit could well have been pre-occupied by Russia’s aggressions in Ukraine, but the shocking rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria also pose potentially enormous threats to security in Europe and the United States. How do you think NATO should to respond to these threats?
The rise of ISIS represents one of the gravest threats not only to Middle Eastern, but to transatlantic security at the current juncture. The US, the EU and its member states are actively involved at the humanitarian, political and military levels. The southern neighborhood ought to remain a strategic priority for NATO. ISIS represents a threat to the Alliance and has rightfully been subject of debate at Celtic Manor. But this does not necessarily mean that NATO as such ought to stand in the frontline in the fight against ISIS.
At the summit we decided to work with a large coalition of partners, including many non-NATO countries, on a long term strategy that can put an end to the threats that Isis represents – first of all for minorities and civilians in Arab and Muslim countries. It is not a “clash of civilizations”: it’s the need to respond to the call of innocent Arabs and Muslims to join forces to stop this misuse of religion for a criminal inhuman purpose.
The crisis in Syria and Iraq today is connected to the wider changes sweeping the Middle East formerly known as the Arab Spring. The situation in the region doesn’t look as hopeful as it did in 2011, and for much of the intervening period Europe and the US have been bystanders in the region. What role can the EU play going forward, in particular to help in partnership the crushing economic and social pressures countries in the region continue?
The Arab transformation, like all revolutions in history, is a slow and painful processes. Today we are certainly living one of its darkest moments. But not only should be try to capitalize on the few bright lights – Tunisia’s democratization, the prospects for a nuclear deal on Iran, and a possible rapprochement Rihyad and Tehran — we should also bear in mind, that once the genie is out of the bottle it is difficult – if not impossible – to out it back in. Things have started to change and I believe the drivers of the Arab uprisings – demand for dignity, democracy, and socio-economic rights – will remain a guiding light for us all as we navigate the choppy waters of today’s Middle East.
You already have a good working relationship with Secretary Kerry, who you have met with on several occasions. How do you intend to build on this relationship to strengthen transatlantic security and foreign policy relations? What are your priorities for the next two years?
We really have an excellent relationship, both with Secretary Kerry and with President Obama — earlier this year we welcomed both of them in Rome. We can fruitfully build on this. As High Representative and Vice President of the European Commission, my priorities will be supporting negotiations for Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which represents the single most important element to bind the transatlantic community in an enduring partnership for shared prosperity.
Working alongside the United States in jointly tackling the manifold crisis in the Middle East and the wider Europe, as well as the transition in Afghanistan and the challenges we face in Africa. The conflicts and crises at play are so complex and intertwined that no international actor alone can hope to resolve them. It is only by working together as a transatlantic partnership, alongside other international and regional actors, that we can hope to contribute to global and regional peace and security.
Matt Browne is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he runs the Global Progress program.