The US Department of Defense (DoD) Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) program hosted a special one-hour session on March 24, 2021, with Rector Federica Mogherini (College of Europe; Former High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy), as a part of its SMA INSS/PRISM Speaker Series.
Rector Federica Mogherini fielded questions related to her prior presentation, entitled “The Role of Europe in the New Great Power Competition,” in which she focused on the EU’s and NATO’s role in managing European relations with China and Russia. She also discussed the EU’s and US’s trans-Atlantic partnership, while highlighting their convergent and divergent interests.
Q1: The Freedom House has documented a trend of “freedom in decline” for many years now. Most recently, we have seen a rise in populism, nationalism, and nativism, as that may be an artifact of this trend or an adjacent concern. Would you comment on these dynamics and how Europe and the US might develop a shared approach to confronting this?
Rector Mogherini responded by stating that she does not believe anyone has the “silver bullet” that will solve the decline of democratization around the world. She emphasized that the global wave of right-wing movements and an increase in autocratic practices being adopted by democratic governments, which frequently corresponds with lower human rights standards, is a global issue. She argued that even though Western countries often point to themselves as the examples for democracies, these same countries are often not introspective enough about their own shortcomings. She emphasized that addressing these issues will be difficult for countries in Western Europe, especially after they look at other countries who have weaker human rights and rule of law.
Q2: Can you describe the political will that you observe in today’s youth in both NATO and EU countries, and are they ready to support national governments and their security interests, or are they ready to overthrow them?
Rector Mogherini commented that several major events, starting with the financial crisis of 2008, have strengthened youths’ desire to engage in politics. The first event, the financial crisis of 2008, forced countries in the EU to restructure their budgets at the same time in which they were pledging to raise the percentage of their GDP allocated to national defense systems. Second, the COVID-19 pandemic is currently creating support for health systems, health research, strategic investments in the supply chain for medical materials, and consistent investments in climate change action. The issue of climate change has especially galvanized young voters because they see the link between climate change and the current pandemic. Rector Mogherini also argued that the ongoing war against terror has also pushed young voters to look more favorably toward further investments in defense systems. Consequently, she stressed that if NATO was represented as a key actor for climate issues and security concerns, then its support among youths will grow.
Q3: How can corporations in EU countries and the US cooperate and create innovation to offset the size of China’s market?
Rector Mogherini acknowledged that there was quite a bit of work to be done, especially between the EU and US, to offset China’s growing global economic influence. She also suggested that a new trans-Atlantic trade deal would likely create more partnerships and synergies between the US and Europe. However, she stated that this was not her field of expertise and did not wish to comment further.
Q4: How does the EU reconcile tensions between its political values (e.g., human rights) and its economic interests?
Rector Mogherini recognized the importance of this issue. She stated that the EU does not engage in trade deals that do not have a clause related to human rights. However, Rector Mogherini admitted that the EU does engage with nondemocratic countries because strictly forbidding its member states from trading with certain countries is not practical.
Q5: Can you discuss areas of both common interests and divergent interests vis-a-vis European and US approaches to Russia?
Rector Mogherini commented that this is an area in which the US and EU have entirely convergent interests. She stated that the US, EU, and NATO have the same democratic values, policies toward Eastern European countries, policies toward Ukraine, stance on Crimean autonomy, full support of democracy in Moldova, and perception of threats coming from Russia’s use of chemical agents.
Q6: The Biden administration has come out against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which Germany views favorably. Does this show Russia’s intent to use economic and political issues to drive a wedge between the US and EU?
Rector Mogherini emphatically stated that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is a German issue and not an EU issue. She reinforced her statement by saying that this is not an area where US-EU interests diverge because most EU countries are also against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Q7: How does European strategic autonomy relate to member state autonomy?
Rector Mogherini believes that this is more of a theoretical question than it is a practical question. She emphasized that while the EU is a united front, its member states have the freedom to form their own defense and security policies. Because each country can act on its own, the autonomy of individual countries in the EU does not need to be built.
Q8: How can the EU create more stable relationships with the Ukraine and other Eastern European countries, despite certain levels of corruption in these countries’ own governments, to develop a common policy on Russia?
Rector Mogherini believes that the EU can trust its partners in the Ukraine and other Eastern European countries despite more frequent acts of corruption in their government institutions. Furthermore, she argued that the West needs to support its allies in Eastern Europe against Russia’s aggressive and sometimes expansionist behavior. However, she emphasized that the EU must make it clear to recipient countries’ leadership that the support it receives cannot be politicized. Those countries’ electorate need to understand that support from the EU is not tied to a political candidate or party, but instead, it is tied to their country’s need for security and defense.
Q9: How can the EU and NATO cooperate to confront Russia’s form of hybrid warfare aggression?
Rector Mogherini explained that hybrid warfare has existed since the Trojan Horse (and most likely even before then). She added that she is proud that the EU has signed a partnership with NATO, which includes tabletop exercises and information exchanges to coordinate defense in Eastern Europe.
Q10: How is the European Union coordinating with NATO and the Arctic Council on issues related to the Arctic region?
Rector Mogherini emphasized that this is not an easy question. She stated that the EU does communicate with nations in the Artic Council, but the EU has been consistently blocked from achieving full observer status by Russia. On the other hand, Finland and Sweden have been close allies to both the EU and NATO due to their similar interests. She added that China’s interest in becoming a member of the Arctic Council is also an issue and a systemic threat to the EU. She concluded her answer by stating that as the ice of the Arctic melts, the complete map of the world and its trade routes will change, affecting much of the world’s commerce.
Q11: What are your thoughts on the 17+1 inroads that China is making through bilateral agreements with EU countries, and does this undermine EU solidarity, in your opinion?
Rector Mogherini commented that the 17+1 is an especially controversial topic. She stated that the controversy stems from EU countries telling countries in the Balkans and other prospective EU member states to limit their economic and security interactions with China while maintaining bilateral relationships with China themselves. She believes that there is an area for cooperation between the EU and these states where they can both maintain their own bilateral relationship with China and also adhere to the EU’s moral standards related to human rights. She emphasized that creating a set list of criteria that prospective EU countries must meet with regards to to their interactions with China is key.
Q12: Do you agree with the sentiment held by many democracy-loving people in countries with autocratic governments that the US and EU do not do enough to influence autocratic regimes?
Rector Mogherini stated that she cannot speak for the US, but that she believes that President Biden’s administration will place human rights as a higher priority than its predecessor. She reiterated that while it is not perfect, the EU does use clauses in its bilateral deals to put pressure on human rights violators. The EU has also stalled aid and ended trade deals with countries that do not comply with its guidance.
Federica Mogherini has served as the Rector of the College of Europe since September 2020 and has co-chaired the United Nations High Level Panel on Internal Displacement since January 2020. She previously served as the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, from 2014 to 2019.
Prior to joining the EU, she was Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (2014), and a Member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies (2008-14). In her parliamentary capacity, she was Head of the Italian Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and Vice-President of its Political Committee (2013-14); member of the Italian Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (2008-13); Secretary of the Defence Committee (2008-13); and member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. She also coordinated the Inter-Parliamentary Group for Development Cooperation.
Federica Mogherini is a Fellow of the Harvard Kennedy School. She is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the International Crisis Group, Fellow of the German Marshall Fund, member of the Group of Eminent Persons of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, member of the European Leadership Network for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, and member of the Board of Directors of the Italian Institute for Foreign Affairs (IAI). She has a degree in Political Science from the University of Rome “La Sapienza”.