Rome continues to push Italian FM to replace Ashton
By Honor Mahony
Rome is continuing to push Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini to be the next EU foreign policy chief, despite opposition based on her experience and her country's perceived pro-Russia stance.
Asked whether Mogherini was still in the running, Europe affairs minister Sandro Gozi said on Wednesday (23 July): "Yes, of course [her candidacy] is on the table."
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"We do believe that Federica Mogherini has all the qualities to be a good high representative [for EU foreign relations]. I personally never understood the criticism on her supposed lack of experience."
"She is somebody who has been following and working in foreign policy for 20 years."
Speaking after a meeting of Europe ministers in Brussels, Gozi added that blocking Mogherini would also be contrary to the EU's supposed intention to start afresh after the EU vote in May illustrated that many citizens wanted to change how the EU does its business.
He argued it would be "difficult" to have a new start only with "very experienced male politicians", alluding to the fact that her appointment would help with the EU's gender-balance goals.
The EU foreign policy chief is simultaneously a vice-president of the European Commission, whose team of 28 commissioners needs to contain at least nine women - a political goal demanded by the European Parliament.
"These are all good points that push to confirm her candidacy. We have never hesitated on this even in the last days," said Gozi.
Mogherini emerged as a name for the foreign policy post, currently held by Catherine Ashton, when the centre-left demanded that the job go to a Socialist after the centre-right Jean-Claude Juncker scooped the European Commission presidency.
Since then, Italian PM Matteo Renzi has put much political capital into her replacing Ashton.
The Russia question
However, Mogherini's bid ran into opposition from some eastern countries, particularly Lithuania, who perceive Italy as being too pro-Russia.
The division meant that a summit of EU leaders earlier this month saw no decision on either that post or the President of the European Council.
And since that summit, member states' attitudes across the EU have hardened towards Moscow following the shooting down on 17 July of the Malaysia Airlines flight, allegedly by Russia-backed separatist rebels.
Meanwhile, others are looking for the jobs themselves, including Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski, who played a strong role as the Ukraine crisis started to develop last year.
On Tuesday in Brussels, he noted that his political group, the centre- right EPP, believes that "in these ever more difficult times for Europe in terms of events in its neighbourhood, Europe needs a strong leadership, which also reflects geographic balance."
Both of the EU top posts are due to be decided at a summit in Brussels on 30 August, after which the full commissioner team and their portfolios will become clear too.
EU administrative commissioner Maros Sefcovic said that despite the delay in agreeing the two top posts, the process is "still well on schedule".
The European Parliament is to grill all the commissioner nominees - including the EU foreign policy chief - in the third and fourth weeks of September, while the new commission as a whole is due to be sworn in at the beginning of November.