BRUSSELS -- European Union leaders on Saturday picked Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, to become the 28-nation bloc's top diplomat for the next five years.
The decision comes as the crisis at the EU's eastern border pitting Ukraine against Russia poses one of the biggest foreign policy challenges for the bloc in decades.
"Federica Mogherini will be the new face of the European Union in our day-today
dealings with our partners in the world," outgoing EU summit chairman Herman Van Rompuy said. Incumbent EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, whose term ends in October, has been a frequent liaison for U.S. secretaries of state and chairs the negotiations on Iran's nuclear program.
Mogherini, a 41-year-old center-left politician, has been Italy's foreign minister only since February, drawing criticism that she lacks experience. A first attempt to secure Mogherini's
nomination in June failed amid resistance from eastern European leaders.
Addressing the criticism, Mogherini said she will draw on her experience as foreign minister of a Group of Seven country and her past experience as lawmaker.
The highly visible job as EU foreign policy chief entails flying across the world and hobnobbing with the great and powerful to deal with anything from the fighting in eastern Ukraine to the crises in the Middle East.
However, the EU's top diplomat often has had little leeway because the bloc's member nations jealously guarded foreign policy as a national matter, leaving the foreign policy chief the role to hammer out compromise positions.
Mogherini vowed she will work relentlessly to promote European projects on the international stage, while fighting off crises or seeds of discord that could undermine the bloc's success.