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Trajectories of a new European elite: A closer look at Mogherini’s CV

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You could look at yesterday’s nomination of  Federica Mogherini as the future High Representative of the EU from a simple power balance and recent past perspective:

She’s representing  one of large EU member states, one of the founding member states and her political party is the largest group within the Socialists and Democrats in the newly elected European Parliament. She has recent foreign ministerial experience, and represented the Italian Parliament in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, among other things. She’s also female, which will make her one of the few female leaders of major EU institutions and bodies (the EEAS in her case).

But looking at her CV as officially communicated by the European Council, three steps in her career stick out that may indicate that she is a representative a new type of European leaders:

  • She was a member of the bureau of the Party of European Socialists (PES).
  • She was a member of the board of the Young European Socialists, the PES youth organisation.
  • She was a member of the board of the European Youth Forum.

There’s very little digital proof of her activities in these positions in the late 1990s and early 2000s, like this one for ECOSY, or this one (p. 588) or this one for her work in the European Youth Forum, and no real proof of her PES bureau membership, so it might be worth digging a little deeper to see her concrete role in those positions and the extent to which they allowed her to become what she has become today.

In any case, the fact that she was nominated by the Party of European Socialists may not be fully explained without understanding that she has a background in European Union youth politics, both in the political youth of the European Socialists as well as in the most important European youth NGO. Gaining credibility and visibility within European political party and European civil society ranks seems to be an emerging path for European power elites.

While many top positions in the EU these days are still filled with politicians whose main core career path has been in national politics – Donald Tusk is one of those examples – there is a push of a group of young(er) political activists with a significant European level background. While Mogherini may be one of the first to reach the actual top ranks in the EU, others like 32-year old Ska Keller (who had been in the leadership of the Federation of Young European Greens) have been among the first generation of “Spitzenkandidaten” who were campaigning for the post of European Commission President this spring.

Other European top leaders like Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who was a serious contender for European Council President, or Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb have started their careers by studying in the College of Europe and by becoming young members of the European Parliament (Thorning-Schmidt and Stubb both at 36), before now being national leaders with a significant role in EU politics.

This demonstrates that looking at the trajectories of European leaders cannot ignore the growing role of European political parties and their European youth organisations. Looking for young ambitious politicians starting from the College of Europe or young people who manage to get  leadership positions in European NGOs may be as important in understanding who might be a future EU leader as it was in the past to understand what old, worn-out politicians or high ranking (ex-)leaders might want to crown their national career by ending up in Brussels.

In any case, and this is what Mogherini has said in the Q&A of the press conference after her nomination yesterday, that even though she may not have a long background as a foreign minister, she sees her European and international experience much wider than this narrow look at high-level foreign policy experience.

Whether it will be enough to do the job expected from her in the coming years is hers to proof, but it’s probably worth taking a second and closer look at her CV to guess what type of EU “foreign minister” she well be.

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