Introducing… Federica Mogherini

It's been a tough week for Italy's Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini. As she visited the Middle East in a bid to broker peace between Israel and Palestine, critics in Europe tried to derail her from becoming EU foreign policy chief. The Local finds out a little more about the 41-year-old.

Introducing... Federica Mogherini
Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini visits the Israeli port city of Ashdod, recently hit by rockets fired by Palestinian militants, on July 15th. Photo: David Buimovitch/AFP

So who is Federica Mogherini?

Mogherini was little known before becoming Italy’s foreign minister in February this year. She is the third woman to serve in the role, after Emma Bonino and Susanna Agnelli.

At 41, she is just two years older than Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and is among the youngest politicians in his ruling Democratic Party.

Born in Rome, she is also a mother of two daughters: Caterina, 9 and Marta, 4.

On her blog, called Blogmog, she says she “likes to travel (anywhere, anytime and in any way)”. She also loves reading and spending time with family and the people she loves.

She is fluent in English, French and also speaks some Spanish.

What did she do before becoming foreign minister?

Let’s first go back to the 1990s. It was during this decade that Mogherini was at her most radical, participating in campaigns against racism, xenophobia, Apartheid and gender discrimination, to name but a few.

After a stint working in a call centre, she went on to study for a degree in political science at Rome's Sapienza University.

Her course included some time as an Erasmus student at the Institute of Islamic Studies and Research in Aix en Provence, France, where she wrote a thesis about Islamic politics.

She was elected to parliament in 2008 and also represented Italy at the Nato Parliamentary Assembly.

An article in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday described Mogherini as “typical of center-left politicians of her generation.”

“Like many of her peers, she has journeyed from the radical left to the mainstream,” columnist Sohab Ahmari wrote.

Has she ever done anything troublesome?

Well in 2012 she was tagged in a photo posted on Facebook, reportedly taken in 2002, standing alongside the controversial Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The photo did the rounds on the internet, causing quite a stir. Since then, she seems to have become a lost less radical.

So why was she picked as Italy’s foreign minister?

Renzi took quite a risk appointing Mogherini over the well-experienced Emma Bonino, who was also well-respected at home and abroad.

Despite the choice raising a few eyebrows, Renzi stood firm in his mission to create a young, fresh and vibrant government, even going against the wishes of the Italian President Giorgio Napoletano.

What has she been up to since?

Within minutes of her appointment, she took to Twitter to announce that she had already spoken to US Secretary of State John Kerry, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Evan Venizelos, the Greek foreign minister, on issues including Ukraine, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan.

She has been forthright in her views on Ukraine, saying in early March that the crisis risked propelling Europe into “a new Cold War scenario” that could “take us backwards by decades”.

A day later, she warned Libya that political instability is hampering international efforts to provide assistance to the deeply divided country.

Her travels so far have included last week's trip to Russia and Ukraine, her first overseas visit as foreign minister.

This week she went to the Middle East for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in an effort to broker peace amid escalating violence in the Gaza Strip.

She will also travel to Egypt, a traditional mediator in the Middle East conflict, on Friday.

So why is she in the news this week?

Within weeks of the Democratic Party's triumphant victory at the European Elections, Mogherini was being widely tipped to replace Catherine Ashton as the EU's foreign policy chief.

Little attention was given to her age or “inexperience” until last week, when during a visit to Moscow she endorsed the controversial South Stream gas pipeline project. She was also pictured shaking hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who called on her to help repair relations between Russia and the EU.

That Russia was her first overseas trip as foreign minister was also criticized, with leaders of other EU states saying Italy has taken a soft line on Russia's annexation of Crimea.

By Monday, a Twitter campaign entitled #StopFederica, highlighting her shortcomings, was underway. 

But despite European Parliament President Martin Schulz sharing a few kind words about Mogherini on Wednesday, the backlash is perhaps what persuaded the leaders of the EU's 28 nation bloc to postpone their decision on the job until the end of August.

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Italy’s Renzi wants ex-ECB boss Draghi to become prime minister: report

Ex-PM Matteo Renzi would like to see former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi become prime minister of Italy, a party source told Reuters on Sunday.

Italy's Renzi wants ex-ECB boss Draghi to become prime minister: report
Matteo Renzi. Image: Andreas Solaro/ POOL / AFP

“I would say that is one of our proposals,” confirmed the source, who declined to be named.

The Italian government collapsed last week when PM Giuseppe Conte resigned. The former coalition allies are currently trying to come to an agreement and sort out their differences.

The centre-left government had been in turmoil ever since former premier Matteo Renzi withdrew his Italia Viva party earlier this month, a move that forced Conte to step down this week.

During the past year, Renzi frequently criticised Conte’s management of the pandemic and economic crisis.

Italy’s La Stampa newspaper also reported on Sunday that President Sergio Mattarella was considering Draghi for the prime ministerial role. However, Mattarella’s office promptly denied this, saying there had been no contact between them.

So far, there has been no comment from Draghi, who hasn't been seen much in the public eye since 2019.

Italy's president, Sergio Mattarella, gave ruling parties more time on Friday to form a new government, after the resignation of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. 

Coalition parties Italia Viva, the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement must come to an agreement to allow the government to heal. 

Renzi, a former prime minister himself, has pubilcly stated that he does not want to talk about who should lead the next government at this stage, reasoning that the parties need to agree on a way forward first.

“Any effort today to fuel a discussion about Draghi is offensive to Draghi and above all to the president of the republic,” Renzi said in an interview published on Sunday with Corriere della Sera.

A senior Italia Viva lawmaker also told Reuters that “If the president gives a mandate to Draghi, we would certainly support this”. 

Renzi, whose party is not even registering three percent support in opinion polls, quit the coalition over Conte’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his plans for spending more than 200 billion euros from a European Union fund to help Italy’s damaged economy.

READ ALSO: Why do Italy's governments collapse so often?