WASHINGTON – Many European leaders respond to Donald Trump with apocalyptic fear. But Federica Mogherini isn’t one of them.
As the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, a position equivalent to secretary of state for the EU’s 28 member states, Mogherini confronts a new White House unlike any in recent memory – one whose president has disparaged the NATO alliance as “obsolete” and who has applauded the decision by the United Kingdom to leave the EU, better known as “Brexit.”
But none of that gets Mogherini down. Youthful and telegenic with a ready smile, the Italian diplomat told Fox News this week she gets along with the Trump administration just fine.
“My working relationship with the secretary of state, Secretary of Defense [James] Mattis, with Vice President [Mike] Pence, with congressmen on the Hill, has been great,” she said. “I think that [President Trump’s] opinion about the Union will change….Because what the vice president, secretary of state, [and] the secretary of defense are passing [as] his message to us in the EU, on behalf of the president, is that the new U.S. administration is more than willing to strengthen, and deepen, the friendship with EU. So maybe he doesn't have to change his mind at all.”
Shortly after President Trump was inaugurated, EU President Donald Tusk designated him as a “risk” to the European allies. This week, however, Mogherini was characteristically diplomatic. Despite Tusk’s references to “unsettling declarations” made by the 45th president, she insisted the EU president had only been referring to the uncertainties that invariably attend a change in presidential administrations. “The European Union will never see America, or an American president, as a risk,” she said.
Interviewed at the EU delegation headquarters in downtown Washington, Mogherini nonetheless cautioned that Trump and his aides cannot mistake an “America first” policy, which she called “fine,” for an “America go it alone” policy.
“I think this would be a mistake, first of all, for American interests – and I know that many Americans think the same, including within the administration,” Mogherini said. “Because this is what we discussed with my interlocutors so many times.”
Clad in a sharp red dress, and tailed by two communications aides and the EU’s low-key ambassador to the United States, David O’Sullivan, Mogherini was only minutes away from speeding over to the White House to meet with the new national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster. She said military-to-military contacts between the U.S. and the EU, along with intelligence sharing and law enforcement cooperation aimed at combating terrorism, all continue in a professional manner at the staff level.
Citing pending legal action here in the states, Mogherini declined to comment on whether President Trump’s executive orders on immigration have served to enhance recruiting efforts by Islamic jihadists – a claim advanced by critics of the orders. But she did express concerns about Western societies – on both sides of the Atlantic – succumbing to Islamophobia.
“There are trends in our societies…that can lead to some political decisions in America and in Europe that can give some ground to the radicalization discourse,” Mogherini said. “This is why it is so important that we base policies on the human rights of individuals, without characterizing them neither by their religion, or by their ethnic backgrounds, or by their nationality.”
Formerly the foreign minister in her native Italy, Mogherini chairs a monthly meeting of the 28 foreign ministers she now represents on the world stage. Even as she continues to advocate for Syrian refugees and helps coordinate European contributions in the fight against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, her chief headache these days is Brexit: a messy divorce whose terms are expected to take at least two years to negotiate.
Having received permission from the British Parliament this week to commence those negotiations, British Prime Minister Theresa May has indicated that the formal process will begin on March 29.
“I have the impression this will be more difficult for the United Kingdom than for the rest of us in the EU,” Mogherini told Fox News. She said the remaining 27 states are “investing even more” in the common market, and that the group may wind up with new members, “because we have important accession talks with the Balkan countries.”
Mogherini has only held her office for a little over two years, but European officials say her openness to news media, and social media, leave her better equipped than her predecessor – Lady Catherine Ashton of Britain, a more formal figure best known for helping to negotiate the Iran nuclear deal – to reach American audiences in the age of Trump.
For Mogherini, the key test on U.S. soil, analysts told Fox News, will be determining whether the American interlocutors she finds so agreeable do, in fact, speak for the president they serve.
“She's got to develop a relationship with her counterparts and these are folks with whom maybe she hasn't dealt before – folks like Secretary Tillerson, who are new faces to her,” said Michael Singh, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The other challenge is trying to determine the overall policy direction that the Trump administration is going to take. There's a lot of uncertainty in that regard certainly in Washington and even more so around in the world.”