INTERVIEW: The unity of our union is much stronger than perceived, says EU’s Federica Mogherini

Federica Mogherini, High representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy
Updated 28 December 2018

INTERVIEW: The unity of our union is much stronger than perceived, says EU’s Federica Mogherini

  • Our greatest enemy is a lack of trust in the means at our disposal
  • If we want to play a decisive role, not only in our region but also globally, we have all the right instruments to do so

Federica Mogherini has overseen EU foreign and security policy since November 2014. With her term coming to an end in 2019, Mark Leonard of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a pan-European think tank, interviewed Mogherini about the state of European security and the future of the international order, arms control and migration, among other issues.

Leonard (ML) So far, the EU has maintained its unity over key issues, such as Brexit and post-Crimea sanctions on Russia. Is this unity likely to hold in 2019, particularly given the looming EU parliamentary elections and changes at the top of the European Commission and European Council?

Mogherini (FM) The unity of our union is much stronger than is often perceived. What I see in my daily work is an EU that makes decisions jointly, implements them together and — especially in the field of foreign and security policy — acts as one. 

Many complain about a lack of unity, but my impression is that these complaints derive more from a comfortable cliche that is repeated on the basis of past experiences rather than from a realistic reflection on the situation today.

We need to define what we mean by unity. It does not mean uniformity. We number 28 — soon 27 — which is still a lot. With 500 million people, the EU is the largest integration project ever realized. 

It is the biggest market in the world and the second-largest economy. It comprises many different cultures, languages and politics. History and geography have given us different backgrounds. It is only natural that this translates into different views, opinions and voices, even within each of our democratic societies.

I have always refused to use the expression: “The EU must sing with one voice.” We need to use all the different voices we have, because our plurality is our point of strength. But we need to sing the same song, in a coordinated manner, like a choir. And in my daily work, I see unity of purpose, common decisions and coordinated action happening. I do not see this trend being challenged.

ML You have called for Europe to defend its sovereignty by, for example, creating new structures that would allow it to continue to adhere to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran. Will these structures work, and could the special-purpose vehicle to maintain trade with Iran be used to counter other US sanctions?

FM We are working, as a union of 28 member states and with the rest of the international community, to preserve a nuclear agreement that has so far been implemented in full, as certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 13 consecutive reports. We do this because of our collective security: We do not want to see Iran developing a nuclear weapon, and the JCPOA is delivering precisely on that purpose. 

I often hear that, on this issue, Europe is motivated mainly by economic or trade considerations. That is not the case. We do this to prevent a nuclear non-proliferation agreement that is working from being dismantled, and to prevent a major security crisis in the Middle East.

ML Why has Europe’s weight in its neighborhood decreased, especially when it comes to shaping events in Turkey, Libya and Syria? Is this an indication that Europe will not be one of the great powers of the 21st century?

FM Our destiny is in our own hands. If we want to play a decisive role, not only in our region but also globally, we have all the right instruments to do so, and we have the weight to do so. This is also what our partners around the world expect from us, particularly in these difficult times. To play such a role, Europeans need to realize how big and powerful they are when they act together as a union, and focus more on the responsibility we can exercise on the global scene if we resist the temptation of inward-looking policies — or rather, politics.  

Our greatest enemy is a lack of trust in the means at our disposal. The EU has unparalleled “soft” power — in economic, diplomatic and cultural terms — and we are increasingly active as a global security provider, building our “hard” power as never before. In Syria and Libya, we are not a military player, and I am proud of this. Violence has brought more violence, while we have always worked for peaceful and negotiated solutions.

Does this mean we are powerless? Quite the contrary. At the UN General Assembly this year, more than 50 countries and organizations took part in the discussion we initiated on Syria to support the difficult work the UN is doing there. Everyone understands that the EU’s role in Syria and Libya is unique and irreplaceable.

ML What impact will Brexit have on the EU’s security strategy? Will it help forge a stronger consensus?

FM I have no doubt that our future is one of close partnership and cooperation. If you look at what has happened since the Brexit referendum in 2016, we are still making unanimous decisions on foreign, security and defense policies. 

We reacted as one to the nerve-agent attack in Salisbury, England, earlier this year. We continue to work together when it comes to preserving the Iran nuclear deal. And we are pursuing shared objectives in Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar
and elsewhere.

In the coming months, I will present a proposal for a new way of collaborating with non-EU countries and international organizations that are involved in EU civilian and military operations, or that are otherwise associated with our security and defense policies. 

This will also be an essential part of our future relationship with the UK. We will seek ways for non-EU countries to participate in defense projects launched under the Permanent Structured Cooperation framework.

ML What do you believe foreign policy can and should do to fight populism?

FM I do not like the expression “populism.” I believe a lot of people have lost trust in institutions — all of them. But in most European countries, the EU is more trusted than national institutions. 

The reaction coming from some political forces is to shift the blame and find a scapegoat. Governments come to Brussels, make decisions by unanimity, then blame the results on the EU. But the union is what we make of it. We have a collective responsibility to make it work. It is a reflection of our own collective political will.

In these past few years, our foreign policy has advanced and protected Europeans’ interests and values in a way that no member state could have achieved alone. In today’s world, even the bigger member states are small, such that national sovereignty can be effectively exercised only through the EU. We show this every day in our foreign policy. We are more effective at negotiating trade deals as the world’s largest market than as 28 separate countries. 

ML If there is a populist surge in the upcoming European Parliament elections, what lessons should Brussels take from it, and what new course would you advocate?

FM Whatever the result of the election, the lessons will have to be taken not so much in Brussels but everywhere around the union, and most of all in member states’ capitals. EU policies and actions are defined through our collective work, which is the result of our political will. If it works, it is a collective success for all of us. If it fails, it is a collective responsibility and a problem for all. No one is excluded.

I believe that Europeans need their union, and need to change some of the policies that the EU has put in place. This is something we have begun to do in recent years, deepening European integration on security and defense, establishing a strong and united external policy to govern migration flows, and launching the largest ever investment plan for Europe and Africa.

Some want to change EU policies to improve them — even radically — but others just want to destroy the union. We have to be very careful because in times of frustration, destruction can sound fascinating for many. Yet the secret of change is to focus not on destroying the old but on building the new. I hope this will be possible in 2019.

ML Do recent developments in the EU’s external approach to migration in places such as Africa and the Middle East signal a move away from emergency responses toward long-term solutions?

FM Not just recent developments. This has been the goal of our external action on migration since the very beginning. Let me remind you of the situation three years ago: Hundreds of people were dying almost every day in the Mediterranean and in the North African desert. Until then, the EU had been indifferent to a phenomenon that it considered to be outside its competence and under the exclusive purview of individual member states. 

This has changed, finally. We had to create an emergency response to end the carnage, and we did it with Operation Sophia at sea and the Emergency Trust Fund to finance our work with Africa. 

At the same time, we started to work on a better system to manage migration flows and address their long-term causes. We started to train local security forces; we worked on voluntary returns for migrants, with the opportunity to start a new life; and we established our investment plan for Africa and Europe’s neighborhood.


Emotional Muslims return to Christchurch mosque as New Zealand works to move on

Updated 4 min 18 sec ago

Emotional Muslims return to Christchurch mosque as New Zealand works to move on

  • Al Noor was handed back to the local Muslim community on Saturday and began allowing small groups onto its grounds around midday
  • “We are allowing 15 people at a time, just to get some normality,” said Saiyad Hassen, a volunteer at Al Noor

CHRISTCHURCH: Muslims held emotional prayers inside Christchurch’s main mosque on Saturday for the first time since a white supremacist massacred worshippers there, as New Zealand sought to return to normality after the tragedy.
The Al Noor mosque had been taken over by police for investigations and security reasons after alleged gunman Brenton Tarrant gunned down Muslims gathered there and at a smaller mosque for Friday prayers on March 15, killing 50 people.
Al Noor was handed back to the local Muslim community on Saturday and began allowing small groups onto its grounds around midday.
“We are allowing 15 people at a time, just to get some normality,” said Saiyad Hassen, a volunteer at Al Noor, adding that there were no plans yet to fully reopen.
Among the first to enter was massacre survivor Vohra Mohammad Huzef, who said two of his roommates were killed and that he managed to live only by hiding under bodies.
“I could feel the bullets hitting the people and I could feel the blood coming down on me from the people who were shot,” said Huzef, a Christchurch civil engineer originally from India.
“Everyone wants to get back in again to give praise and to catch up. This is the central point of our community.”
The attacks shocked a country of 4.5 million that is known for its tolerance and prompted global horror, heightened by Tarrant’s cold-blooded livestreaming of the massacre.
New Zealand came to a standstill on Friday to mark one week since the bloodshed, with the Muslim call to prayer broadcast across the country followed by two minutes of silence.
The ceremonies saw poignant scenes of Maoris performing the traditional haka war dance, and non-Muslim New Zealand women donning makeshift Islamic headscarves in solidarity.
A day earlier, the country outlawed the military-style rifles used in the assault with immediate effect.
But one of four concert sites at a music festival in the capital Wellington was evacuated on Saturday night just before a planned minute of silence for Christchurch, underlining lingering apprehensions.
Police cited unspecified “concerns about a person,” but later called it an “innocent misunderstanding” and the concert was slated to proceed.
In Christchurch, police also handed back Linwood Mosque, the second killing zone several kilometers away from Al Noor, but no plans to allow visitors were announced.
An armed police presence will remain at both mosques, as well as others around New Zealand.
Workers have rushed to repair the mosques’ bullet-pocked walls and clean blood-spattered floors.
At Al Noor, visitors knelt at a garden tap to wash their feet and faces in ritual pre-prayer ablutions.
Some wept quietly inside the mosque, where bright sunlight streamed through windows and the air smelled of fresh paint. No bullet holes were seen.
Men and women then knelt and prayed on a padded carpet underlay taped to the floor, still awaiting replacements for the mosque’s blood-stained rugs.
Several members of Christchurch semi-professional football club Western A.F.C. arrived in team colors to honor three victims who were known to the team due to their interest in the sport. The players left a bouquet of flowers outside the entrance to the mosque’s grounds.
The victims included 14-year-old Sayyad Milne, who dreamed of playing in goal for Manchester United, according to his father.
“We all love playing football and the best thing we can do is just to go out and enjoy it really, and obviously play for those guys that have been lost and think about them while we are doing it,” said team member Aaron McDonald, 20.
The mosque’s imam Gamal Fouda arrived draped in a New Zealand flag.
The day before, Fouda delivered an impassioned memorial service at a park next to the mosque that was watched globally and in which he praised “unbreakable” New Zealand for uniting in the tragedy’s wake.
Around 2,000 people gathered Saturday at the same park to join a “March for Love” procession through Christchurch.
Officials and police said two relatives of victims had died, with New Zealand identifying one as 65-year-old Suad Adwan, who had arrived from Jordan for the burial of her son Kamel Darwish, 38.
The grief-stricken mother was found Saturday morning having apparently died in her sleep, just hours after her son’s burial, of what police called a “medical event.”
No other details on the deaths were given.
But normality slowly returned to Christchurch as children played cricket near Al Noor and a previously scheduled 100-kilometer (62-mile) cycling race went ahead as planned.
New Zealand, which has already charged two people for distributing the gruesome livestreamed video of the attack, has now also made it a crime to share the alleged killer’s “manifesto,” local media reported.
In the document, Tarrant says the killings were in response to what he termed a Muslim “invasion” of Western countries.
“Others have referred to this publication as a ‘manifesto’, but I consider it a crude booklet that promotes murder and terrorism,” Chief Censor David Shanks was quoted as saying.