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6th Jun 2020

Mogherini more hawkish on Russia in EP hearing

  • Mogherini: 'Russia might not be a partner at the moment, but it’s still a country with strategic importance' (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The EU’s next foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, was more hawkish on Russia in a European Parliament hearing which satisfied most MEPs.

The Italian foreign minister has a Kremlin-friendly reputation after meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in July and after saying that his South Stream gas pipeline is good for Europe.

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But she told MEPs in Brussels on Monday (6 October) that EU sanctions on Russia are causing economic pain even if they have not changed Putin’s mind so far.

Asked what the EU should do if he also invades south Ukraine, she replied “we need a mixture of assertiveness and diplomacy … we could increase them [sanctions] if things get worse”.

She added that the “political conditions are not right” for building South Stream even if it complied with EU law on breaking up energy monopolies.

But she underlined there is “no military solution to the [Ukraine] conflict” and said the EU should focus on helping Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko to make peace.

“Russia might not be a partner at the moment, but it’s still a country with strategic importance in world affairs, so I guess we’ll need to deeply reassess our relations over the next five years”, she noted.

She said the EU should “engage” with Russia on nuclear disarmament despite Ukraine and that South Stream could go ahead if “things get back to normal”.

Islamic State

With Islamic State (IS) poised to seize Kobane on the Turkish-Syrian border, Mogherini described the “terrorist” group as a “major global threat … a threat to all of us”.

She noted that Muslim countries should play a leading role in the war effort.

Referring to images of a female jet fighter pilot from the United Arab Emirates who took part in air strikes, she said “that picture … was such a powerful message” in coalition efforts to de-legitimise IS in the eyes of ordinary Muslims.

She warned that unless the EU and UN do more to stabilise Libya “it could be next in line” to fall to Islamist radicals.

She also confronted Israel, saying she backs Palestine’s Hamas-Fatah government, and noting the EU “might” use financial “incentives and disincentives” on Palestine and Israel to get them to restart peace talks.

Like her predecessor in the EU job, Catherine Ashton, Mogherini promised to give human rights a central role in foreign policy.

She said she will “not only raise the issue, but [will] try to make a difference” in tricky talks with Azerbaijan, China, and Iran.

“It’s part of my DNA, it’s not just a clause [in EU treaties]”, she noted.

Strategic thinking

In terms of plans for the EU’s External Action Service [EEAS], she said her main task will be to draft a “strategic vision” for EU foreign and defence policy.

But she said its coherence will depend on “political will” in member states.

“Who’s responsible for strategic thinking? It’s me. Yes. But it doesn’t mean I’ll do it enclosed in my office away from the world”.

She said she will tour the 28 EU capitals in her first few weeks in the post to see what they want.

She also pledged to work more closely than Ashton with the European Commission and the EU parliament.

Mogherini noted that her decision to move her office from the EEAS building back to the commission HQ will make the foreign service “a central point of reference” for commission activity overseas.

She said she will attend meetings of the commission “college” and chair talks with external-facing commissioners, for instance on climate change or trade, once a month.

She also said she will brief MEPs before her meetings with foreign affairs ministers instead of after the fact.

'Quietly confident'

Mogherini risked annoying the chairman of the parliament foreign affairs committee, German centre-right deputy Elmar Brok, when he cut off one MEPs’ mike for speaking too long.

“We all know about the famous German flexibility”, she joked, before looking at Brok and adding “I’m not a diplomat”.

Some deputies, such as Dutch liberal Marietje Schaake, also criticised her for waffling.

“Mogherini suggests ‘instruments, to centralise what is needed when it is needed’. I kid you not”, Schaake tweeted at one point.

But Brok in a press conference after the hearing forgave the Italian her quip. He said he is “quietly confident” she will get approval to start work on 1 November.

“There is a positive atmosphere but in a political context, so we will have a response tomorrow [Tuesday]”, he said.

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