Overrated: Federica Mogherini

The EU’s foreign policy chief is a lightweight

Overrated
Federica Mogherini: Has anyone actually read her university thesis? (illustration by Michael Daley)

Federica Mogherini speaks for Europe — alas. As High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy since 2014, she has been the voice of the European Union in the face of some of the greatest threats in its history, from Ukraine and Syria to the migration crisis and the terrorism of IS. Yet that voice has been largely inaudible and the threats have not been lifted. She has been praised by US Secretary of State John Kerry for having “done well in a tough job”, but it is hard to point to a single battle she has won (or even fought) on behalf of the 500 million Europeans whom the High Representative is supposed to represent.

In fact, the most memorable thing Mogherini has done in two years was to burst into tears in public. On the day of the Brussels attacks, she broke off mid-press conference on a visit to Amman and fell weeping into the arms of her Jordanian counterpart. One only has to compare Mogherini’s mawkishness with Margaret Thatcher’s stiff upper lip 30 years ago on the morning after the Brighton bomb, in which she — unlike several friends — had narrowly escaped death or injury. The fact that Barack Obama had also wept on camera over the Sandy Hook massacre does not excuse Mogherini. By their histrionic displays, both she and Obama were engaged in “virtue signalling”. But the signal that her tears sent to the patriarchal Muslim world, and especially to the terrorists of IS, was fatal: Europe is too weak and decadent to resist jihad, let alone to strike back.

The same impression of weakness was conveyed, less obviously but no less damagingly, by what is seen by her admirers as Mogherini’s most substantial diplomatic achievement: the nuclear deal with Iran. She stole the show from her predecessor, Baroness Ashton. Throughout negotiations over the last year, in which she played second fiddle to the US, she made no secret of her priority: lifting sanctions so that European firms could resume their profitable trade with the Islamic Republic. Though responsible for European security as well as foreign policy, she was content to let the Iranians continue nuclear enrichment.

Why is Mogherini so accommodating? Part of the answer comes from her background in the Euro-elite. Her father was a production designer, art director and film director, whose credits included Paolo Barca, Schoolteacher and Weekend Nudist. After joining the Communist Youth Federation, her ascent through the ranks of the Italian Left was smooth. In 2014 she became foreign minister. Her credentials were slender, but within months she had been catapulted into the Brussels role by her boss, prime minister Matteo Renzi, who wanted to be rid of her. Her inexperience — and her gut feelings — were exposed in the Ukraine crisis, during which her reluctance to stand up to Russia was obvious. Old Eurocommunist allegiances die hard.

To these leftist sympathies, however, she added admiration for Islam in general and political Islam in particular — the subject of a mystery dissertation that apparently no one has ever read. (But she proved her pro-Palestinian bona fides by having herself photographed with Yasser Arafat.)  In a Brussels speech last June, she attacked the idea of a clash of civilisations. “Islam belongs in Europe,” she declared. “It holds a place in Europe’s history, in our culture, in our food and — what matters most — in Europe’s present and future.” But what kind of Islam did she mean? Mogherini explained: “I am not afraid to say that political Islam should be part of the picture.” With a million Muslims arriving on Europe’s shores, such a soft spot for Islamism had, for many, an ominous resonance — but not for her. Those who feared “the end of Europe”, she said, “have no clue what Europe and the European identity are.” Far from being the aggressor, “Islam is a victim.”

There is no reason to think that Mogherini would repudiate a word of this. After the Paris attacks, she told Vogue: “It is not diversity that is going to destroy us, but fear of diversity.” What is striking about such talk is how remote it is from real people. She should try telling the survivors of Paris and Brussels that their friends were destroyed, not by strangers in their midst, but by “fear of diversity”, or that Islam was really the victim. Yet this attitude should come as no surprise: as a Eurocrat, Mogherini has only the most tenuous acquaintance with democracy, and Italian democracy at that.

As a good European, Mogherini earnestly condemns anti-Semitism, but refuses to countenance the notion that it might be legitimised by subjecting Israel to discriminatory EU rules (e.g. on goods labelling). With much of the Middle East mired in genocidal chaos, she remains focused on restarting the “peace process” in one of the region’s most peaceful places: Israel.

Mogherini’s term of office will last another three years. At 42, her political career doubtless has much further to run; for in the tin-eared world of global governance, a mediocre record may even be advantageous. Expect the High Representative to rise even higher — while the Europe she supposedly represents plumbs new depths in betraying the values of Western civilisation.