Already 100 days for EU foreign policy under the leadership of Federica Mogherini. What has changed so far?

Infographic source: EEAS,

By Damien Helly

The style of EU Foreign and security policy has already changed: Europe’s face is younger, more energetic, and often appears firmer than it did a year ago. The stronger synergies between development and other external policies are expectedly less visible with a European agenda highly dominated by security crises. Yet the attitude is new: more self-assured and visible than Cathy Ashton, who reportedly hardly ever made public statements without preparation or a spokesperson by her side. Mogherini’s almost relaxed attitude – sometimes using her personal political charisma if not charm – and as her rather tough statements on the need for reforms in Ukraine during her press conference in Kyiv, contrast with her predecessor’s more discreet and measured tone. Mogherini does not hesitate to add a personal touch to her public statements – including on social media -which also seem to become more frequent and more assertive: Europe has found a voice.

Her record as High Representative so far is largely positive and she is still enjoying a honeymoon with public opinion and national foreign ministries, but this may not last long. Tensions at the Foreign Affairs Council of January 2015 around the need for more sanctions against Russian individuals and entities and the potential threat of a Greek veto show that clouds are gathering on the horizon. Criticism started with the EEAS issues paper on Russia, prepared ahead of the Council meeting, which was viewed as too soft by Merkel’s circles. Singing in tune – which means turning the policy wheel neither too fast nor too slow – with Member States and national foreign ministers will be the key to Mogherini’s success: leaving them enough space to play their role, and stimulating them when necessary. She did this well when she discreetly signing an op-ed with Germany, the UK and France’s foreign ministers on nuclear negotiations with Iran (a file still looked after by Ashton as Chief Negotiator within the EEAS).

Mogherini’s strength so far: no top-down revolution but listening and learning

Sensitive subjects on which any foreign policy chief can make mistakes or be criticised are numerous and Mogherini will soon be tested again by the national press but also a demanding European Parliament on Russia, Da’esh, terrorism and Libya. Until now, Mogherini has been wise enough not to try to revolutionise the European foreign policy system. She honoured her promise to pay more attention to the European Parliament, which now has to admit that she has better things to do than sitting for hours in the Strasbourg hemicycle. She will probably struggle to find time to brief MEPs ahead of each Foreign Affairs Council.

Some say her new working method that consists of narrowing down the agenda to a short list of key issues in the Foreign Affairs Council has not really been effective. This was confirmed by the postponement of a strategic debate on Africa this week. Yet burden sharing with Member States is certainly a useful and unavoidable approach and is already happening.

Mogherini’s intensive travelling schedule demonstrates her willingness to learn and listen, to broaden her personal network and to get involved directly in international affairs. It also perhaps reflects her priorities: The Southern Neighbourhood and Middle East peace process, Ukraine, the US, and Africa, where she was due to attend the latest African Union summit in Addis Ababa late January. Will Asia come later through a European pivot to the East matching the US one?

Some of the initiatives that Mogherini has taken are actually the results of ongoing processes, such as the upcoming presentation of a green paper on the European Neighbourhood Policy: the EU’s engagement with the Mediterranean, Eastern European and Caucasus countries had been under harsh criticism from within the EU diplomacy for months. The partnership with Africa acquired a roadmap at the Africa-EU Brussels summit in April 2014, several months before she took office: her added value on Africa was supposed to be demonstrated at the next Foreign Affairs Council in February where ministers held a strategic discussion on EU-Africa relations. The defence agenda has been sketched out mostly by the 2013 Defence Council: the High Representative is expected to present an assessment of global security at the Defence Council next June.

Working creatively with national diplomacies and in the EU machine: a first test for Mogherini

As Commission’s Vice President Mogherini is also supposed to seek coherence with development policies as well internal policies, beyond counter terrorism.Here the record is perhaps a bit blurrier. The first publicly tangible result of the new Commission’s external relations clusters modus operandi is perhaps the recent communication on a post-2015 global partnership for poverty eradication and development (acknowledging the importance of means of implementation and thereby the leadership of the Commission with the support, “where necessary”, of the EEAS.

What will be a test for Mogherini’s power as High Representative is an internal reform of the EEAS (in particular its crisis management structures) and her ability to develop the EU’s foreign policy more creatively together with Member States, including with their numerous contact groups and ad-hoc club diplomacy. She may have to wait for new faces to join her in the exercise. Some members of the EEAS corporate board and other senior officials, her close teammates, are going to change in the next few months. French diplomat Alain Le Roy will replace the current Executive Secretary General Pierre Vimont, though he may stay around as a special adviser like Ashton. In the summer, the High Representative will have the opportunity to appoint new faces to Directors positions as well as a number of Heads of Delegations.

The renewed interest in stricter border control and anti-migration measures in the wake of the terrorist attack in Paris implies more cooperation between the EEAS and DG Home, which is not at all a given. More consequences of the attacks could be felt on the development agenda as well, which is already facing a milestone year with the negotiations of the Sustainable Development Goals, aid programming and the Paris COP21 Climate conference. A readjustment of the current EU policy, the Agenda for Change and the European Consensus on development in light of the results of the post-2015 agenda is expected. With eight Commissioners in charge of external relations, from different angles, the coordination and coherence imperative will certainly be a day-to-day challenge and practice will indicate whether Mogherini manages to play a meaningful role as Vice President of the Commission.

Will Mogherini achieve breakthroughs with the foreign and security agenda of the first six months of 2015: Russia, Libya, Syria and Iraq, the February Foreign Affairs Council on terrorism, the launch of consultations on a new European Security Strategy and the June Council on defence? She certainly has scored high in terms of perceptions but the road to EU coherence is still long, and never ends.

Damien Helly is Visiting Professor at the College of Europe and Deputy Head of the Programme on EU external action at ECDPM. He writes in his personal capacity and thanks the ECDPM and the College of Europe’s individual reviewers of this blog.

One thought on “Already 100 days for EU foreign policy under the leadership of Federica Mogherini. What has changed so far?

  1. Pingback: Already 100 days for EU foreign policy under the leadership of Federica Mogherini. What has changed so far? « Afronline – The Voice Of Africa

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