Federiga Bindi, Ph.D., Sr.Fellow, SAIS Johns Hopkins; Director, Foreign Policy Initiative, Institute for Women’s Policy Research; J.Monnet Chair, UniRoma Tor Vergata
“At times in foreign policy we make mistakes because we act too quickly without first properly understanding how things really are.” Sure enough, this is recurrent complain among foreign policy geeks, but it takes a certain bravery to say so — on the record and in the world’s most prestigious think tank — if you are one of those people that actually leads the world’s foreign policy.
Yet, this is exactly what Italy’s Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini said in her address at the Brookings Institution, adding that there is a need to link analysis to action in order to stop faulting. Contrary to the use in Italian diplomacy, the minister was talking without a written speech or even talking points: Such refusal to use a predetermined text — where such words would have never found space — further testify of her courage and tells a lot about her leadership style: casual and relaxed, yet confident.
Mogherini, 41, mother of two, is the youngest foreign minister in the history of modern Italy. However, when an (Italian) member of the audience asked how she managed, being such a young woman, she politely dismissed the question saying that only in Italy a woman in her 40s is considered young. Privately, she admits that she can do it all because “my husband is a saint and I get a lot of help from my mother,” though she tries hard in her few spare moments to just be a “normal” mother, walking her girls to school or the like.
When she got appointed, the Italian press impolitely questioned “Mogherini who?!?” Not quite so the reactions in the foreign policy community, both in Italy and abroad, where Mogherini is a well-known and respected figure. Indeed, she has prepared all her life for the job. In her youth days, she was the International Secretary of the Italian Young Democrats of the Left and consequently Vice President of IUSY, the Young Socialists International Union. She then joined the Italian Democratic Party’s International Relations Department and entered Parliament; finally, she was appointed International Secretary by Matteo Renzi in January 2014 when he won the party’s leadership.
A graduated in Political Science with a thesis on Middle East, Federica was an ERASMUS student in Grenoble. ERASMUS is a scholarship scheme that allows European kids to spend a semester or a year in another European university. Iconized by the blockbuster movie The Spanish Apartment, in its quarter-century existence, ERASMUS crafted a new generations of true Europeans.
The “Erasmus generation” is in fact “naturally European, just like we are naturally nationals of our countries” — as Mogherini put it — “we have a different view on things, especially on the European Union.” Both former and current Italian Prime Ministers Enrico Letta and Matteo Renzi mentioned ERASMUS in their investments speeches and considered it as their karma (though ironically neither one actually was an ERASMUS student).
ERASMUS is also contributing to create a new generation of women leaders as students of both genders are equally profiting of this unique chance of personal growth. A new, skilled generation of young European women is thus slowly but steadily emerging, reflecting in an increasing number of women in Parliament and government all over Europe. In Italy, Renzi made a point of naming the first gender-parity government and in appointing women at the head of some of the most relevant State-owned enterprises. In the EU Parliament elections, in each of the five voting districts a woman was heading the list of candidates.
Unfortunately, the Italian press appears to be still more interested in the (female) ministers dressing style rather than on their (excellent) work; it is however the reaction of a male-dominated, old (from all points of view) system that sees its hold on power slowly but steadily collapsing. Even in Brussels, the European Capital, not all are happy about these new trends in leadership; some of Mogherini’s colleagues apparently grudged when as a freshman in her very first meeting of EU Foreign Ministers, she broke an unwritten rule making her opinion clearly heard.
Despite her quiet and educated tone, Mogherini has in fact very clear views on foreign policy and is not shy about expressing them, even when they can be quite unpopular. In her visit to the US, for instance, she would not get tired of repeating how sanctions against Russia are only a way to put pressure and shall not to be confused with the goal — which is pacifying Ukraine — a country that, she warned, is more divided than we’d like to admit. She also adamantly reiterated how a major objective has to be that of resuming full cooperation with Russia as soon as possible, as no major issue in foreign policy can be solved without it.
In fact, all of her remarks — from Nigeria to Middle East, from Nuclear Proliferation to Syria, Russia and Ukraine — were so full of no-nonsense to appear rather revolutionary.
After decades of myopia and mistakes leading us into useless wars, is it time to shift gear, it is time to have “revolutionary” no-nonsense women leadership in foreign policy and fix the world before it is too late.
Follow Federiga Bindi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/fedbindi