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Renzi’s Choice, Europe’s Loss

ROME – The appointment of Federica Mogherini, Italy’s foreign minister, as the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has exposed two fictions. One is that EU member states care about a common foreign policy; the other is that Italy has a strong and credible government.

To be sure, the selection of the 41-year-old Mogherini scores well for gender, age, and political affiliation. But it also sends a strong message that foreign policy remains a low priority for the EU’s new leadership. Despite the difficult geopolitical situation now confronting Europe, the post of High Representative still carries little influence. Indeed, until early this year, Mogherini had little exposure to foreign policymaking.

Henry Kissinger famously (if apocryphally) asked, “Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?” Today, he would know to call Mogherini, but then he would ask, “Mogherini who?” Four decades later, Europe has still not found an effective and plausible way to speak with one voice on foreign policy.

No one doubts that Mogherini will try her best to learn the nitty-gritty of her new job, but it will be like learning to fly by piloting a jumbo jet. Most of the time, an inexperienced pilot can avoid serious problems by relying on her more experienced crew and various technologies. But in the event of severe turbulence, only a pilot with sufficient skill and practice will be able to maintain control of the aircraft and keep the passengers calm.