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9th Dec 2019

Van Rompuy paints rosy picture of EU at first-ever UN speech

  • The New York event is the first time top EU officials can speak directly to the UN assembly (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy has in a ground-breaking speech in New York described the EU as a force for good in the world and said it is managing the euro crisis in a spirit of "solidarity."

Addressing the UN General Assembly on Thursday (22 September) for the first time as the EU's top official rather than as a leader of an EU presidency country, he said: "This institutional innovation gives our union more continuity and consistency vis-a-vis other world leaders."

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The EU has observer status at the UN and its officials sit in the wings of the plenary chamber alongside entities like the Arab League or the Vatican. But in July it won the right to address the world body as if it was a country in recognition of the greater powers given to EU institutions by the Lisbon Treaty.

Speaking in a mixture of English and French, but French first, Van Rompuy used the occasion to depict the union as a champion of human rights, poverty eradication and the fight against global warming.

He concentrated on its handling of the Arab Spring.

"For us, the Arab Spring is one of the most momentous political developments since the end of the Cold War. We Europeans, so close to the Arab world by the bonds of history and geography, we wish this Spring to blossom," he said.

"When, earlier this year, there was the risk of a bloodbath in Benghazi, European leaders, together with others, acted with swiftness and determination," he added. "You can rest assured that Europe will remain engaged together with you to create a world of peace and security, to promote universal values of human rights and democracy and to combat famine and poverty."

He called the euro crisis "the most serious test since years" and "the defining challenge for my generation."

He added: "We are acting with determination and in a spirit of solidarity ... You may be assured that we will continue to do what it takes to safeguard the financial stability of the eurozone."

The speech glosses over the fact EU countries cozied up to Arab dictators for decades for the sake of oil and security - Van Rompuy's staff before the summer quietly removed a framed picture of Gaddafi from his EU headquarters in Brussels. It also glosses over that Germany did not back Nato air strikes in Libya and that the EU's only military contribution, the so-called Eufor aid mission, was rejected by the UN.

On the euro crisis, Van Rompuy's words do not fit the current climate of fear and loathing in the eurozone. With markets sure that Greece will soon default, the "serious test" risks unravelling not just the single currency but the EU itself.

Van Rompuy took a predictable line on the hottest topic at the UN meeting - Palestinian independence.

He repeated the EU position that the best thing would be if Arabs and Israelis resumed peace talks. But he gave away nothing on how EU countries will vote if Palestine instead seeks full UN membership or to become a "non-member state."

Like US President Barack Obama earlier in the week, he excluded the Palestinians from his general praise of Arab Spring revolutionaries.

He used the word "occupation" disliked by Israeli diplomats. But he depicted the Arab-Israeli conflict as a conflict of equals with equal responsibilities rather than as the Arab world sees it - the frequently brutal oppression of native people by a foreign-backed superpower.

"Populations have lived in fear and suffering for too long ... The legitimate aspirations of both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples for peace, safety and statehood must be fulfilled," Van Rompuy said.

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