27th Oct 2016

Who is Federica Mogherini?

  • Mogherini says she is the face of a "new generation of Europeans" (Photo: Council of European Union)

An unlikely choice just less than two months ago, Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini was picked by EU leaders on Saturday (30 August) to become the bloc's next EU foreign chief.

Mogherini, 41 and a foreign minister since February, was initially blocked by eastern member states who feared she is too Russia-friendly and inexperienced for the job.

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Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, an open critic of Mogherini, was the only leader on Saturday to abstain when the appointment was agreed.

In her press conference at the EU summit, Mogherini refuted accusations of being biased towards Russia and noted that she first went to Kiev and only then to Moscow, as part of "co-ordinated efforts" with outgoing foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and other foreign ministers to broker peace.

"I know the challenges are huge, especially in these times of crisis," Mogherini said.

She pledged to "devote all my energies and dedication to work in the interests of all member states and all EU citizens."

On the question of experience, she said she had been involved in foreign affairs for 20 years - including as part of civil society groups and as an Italian MP on the foreign affairs committee.

"Age is one of the few things you cannot change," she said, adding that at 41 she is not that young anymore.

"What gives me comfort is that the Italian prime minister is younger than me and some other EU leaders as well," she said.

Italian PM Matteo Renzi is 39. Estonia's PM Taavi Roivas is 34. Austria's foreign minister Sebastian Kurz just turned 28.

"There is a new generation of European leaders and we need to respond to and represent all of Europe," she said.

With the escalation of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and with "foreign fighters coming back to Europe" from the Middle East, Mogherini pledged to "work for peace in the broader region not only as an idealistic reference to values, but also as a specific interest to our citizens".

Unlike Ashton, who only speaks English, Mogherini speaks French and English on top of her native Italian as well as some Spanish.

EU council chief Herman Van Rompuy, presenting her appointment, said Mogherini "has been at the frontlines in this difficult and intense period on the international scene, travelling across the globe".

In July and August, Mogherini went to Strasbourg, Brussels, Paris, Kiev and Moscow. She also travelled to Croatia, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Serbia, Montenegro, Chile, Colombia and Moldova.

Mogherini, a political scientist who also did a thesis on Islamic politics, was elected to national parliament in 2008 and represented Italy at the Nato parliamentary assembly.

She has been a member of think-tanks such as the Washington, Berlin and Brussels-based German Marshall Fund for the United States, as well as taking part in nuclear disarmament groups, like her predecessor Catherine Ashton..

Married and the mother of two daughters aged four and nine, Mogherini writes on her blog that she "loves travelling anywhere, anytime and by any means", reading crime novels and spending time with her family.

She is the daughter of a set designer who worked with renowned Italian directors, such as Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Before taking up her post on 1 November, Mogherini has to pass through hearings in the European Parliament, as she will also be part of the EU commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker.

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