11th 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:

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."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

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.

EU reaches out for new powers at United Nations

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy will in future be able to address the UN chamber no differently from US President Barack Obama or Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmedinejad under draft reforms agreed by member states.

EU presidents give bloc pre-G20 pep talk

Ahead of the G20 meeting of leading world economies, EU presidents Herman van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso have given the bloc’s member states a ‘pep talk’, saying that foreign governments need to make a “constructive contribution” too.

EU summit delayed as France, Germany tussle

European Council President Herman van Rompuy has delayed by a week a planned summit of the bloc’s leaders in order to give more time for behind-the-scenes negotiations on plans to end the eurozone crisis.

Guns blaze in Ukraine as leaders meet in Paris

Hundreds of explosions and bursts of small arms fire were reported on the contact line in east Ukraine, as France prepares to host the first peace summit on the war in three years.

News in Brief

  1. Czechs protest against PM Babis over EU subsidy 'fraud'
  2. EU disbursed €2.7bn for Turkey refugees
  3. UK ports set to host EU border checks for Northern Ireland
  4. EU puts tech giants in crosshairs
  5. Faroe Islands under pressure to chose Huawei
  6. Hungary asked to apologise after council leak
  7. MEPs: Finnish budget proposal 'impossible to implement'
  8. EP committee supports 'Future of EU Conference'


EU diplomacy 2.0

MEPs on the foreign affairs committee ought to be like second-tier EU diplomats on the Western Balkans and Russia, according to its German chairman, but foreign policy splits could bedevil its work.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us