Thursday

23rd Jan 2020

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 countries at meetings in Brussels and New York have agreed to table a resolution in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to give the union the right to speak, according to a UK ministerial letter sent out to British MPs on Wednesday (14 July) and seen by EUobserver.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • The plenary chamber at the UN headquarters in New York (Photo: Wikipedia)

The EU currently has only observer status at the UN. Its delegates do not sit among the UN member states, but off to the side, along with entities such as the Vatican, the Red Cross and the Arab League.

The symbolic sitting arrangements are not due to change.

But if the motion, which is to be tabled in the coming weeks, is approved by the general assembly, the EU will also be awarded other rights enjoyed by fully-fledged UN members, such as the right to make proposals and submit amendments, the right of reply, the right to raise points of order and the right to circulate documents.

There will also be additional seats put in for the EU's foreign policy chief, High Representative Catherine Ashton and her officials.

An EU diplomat said the idea behind the changes is to boost the profile of the EU as an entity in itself at the international level.

Britain's EU minister, David Lidington, in the UK ministerial letter said however that the move should not be interpreted as undermining Britain's permanent seat on the UN Security Council: "The granting of such rights to the EU will not affect the UK's position as a member of the UNGA or the UN Security Council."

Meanwhile, foreign secretary William Hague is making sure that UK diplomats in New York send out the message the EU upgrade is "strictly limited." The new resolution "does not imply agreement to seek additional rights in any other fora," the UK ministerial letter says.

The new rights flow from changes established by the EU's Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force last December. "The Lisbon Treaty established new structures for the management of the EU's external relations," Mr Lidington explained.

The UN developments could be seen as something of a u-turn for the British Conservative party.

Back in October 2007, when the Tories were still in opposition and the Lisbon Treaty was just about to be signed off by EU countries, Mr Hague had warned that Lisbon would ultimately lead to an EU "takeover" of Britain's permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Mr Hague said at the time: "The new treaty, like the old, could automatically let the EU foreign minister speak for Britain at the UN security Council in certain situations.

"This is clearly the thin end of the wedge for an EU takeover of our only seat. Given that our independent vote at the EU is now coming under threat, the case for letting people have their final say in the referendum [on the Lisbon Treaty] they were promised is now unanswerable."

He made the comments after the then deputy UN general secretary Mark Malloch Brown, who later became a Labour minister, said that an EU replacement of the UK seat was inevitable, in remarks first reported by EUobserver.

"I think it will go in stages," he said. "We are going to see a growing spread of that and then steady formalisation of it institution by institution, probably starting in the UNDP or UNICEF [two UN branches dealing with aid] first."

"It is not going to happen with a flash and a bang," he continued, adding that he hoped "it will happen as quickly as possible."

Speaking to this website, a UK diplomat said the latest move represents no threat to the UK's security council seat: "This is a completely separate discussion. This is about the government's new, engaged and open approach to the EU. This is why we're telling MPs."

"There is no change in seating arrangements. The EU will not now be sitting amongst the UN member states ... between Ethiopia and Fiji," the diplomat added.

EU warned on 'vigilance' after Davos spy fail

European counter-intelligence services need to "seriously raise the level of vigilance" on Russian spies, UK activist Bill Browder has said after news of a botched operation at Davos.

China spy suspect worked for EU for 30 years

The former EU ambassador suspected by German prosecutors of spying for China was Gerhard Sabathil, according to EU officials speaking on condition of anonymity.

Nuclear arms race threat after EU rebukes Iran

EU powers have triggered a process that could bring the world back to 2006, when sanctions and threats were all that stood in the way of a Middle East nuclear arms race.

Analysis

No Libya truce in Moscow: time for EU step in

While the European Union was too divided to help resolve Libya's civil war, Russia filled the gap. It managed to get the fighting parties to Moscow, but without result.

News in Brief

  1. UK watchdog unveils online child-privacy standards
  2. Alleged 'bully' nominated for EESC presidency
  3. Greens/EFA fail to agree on accepting Catalan MEPs
  4. MEPs approve over 55 gas projects for EU funding
  5. Italy deputy PM Di Maio quits as Five Star party leader
  6. EU investment bank to keep pressure on Turkey over gas
  7. 'Rare' migrant boat from Belgium to UK sinks
  8. First annual rule of law report expected this year, Reynders said

Magazine

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.

Opinion

'A game of roulette' - life as a journalist now in Turkey

Turkey has more journalists behind bars than any other country in the world. The authorities seem to equate journalism with terrorism: everyone has the right to express themselves, but, in their eyes, legitimate journalism is a threat to security.

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

Latest News

  1. EU warned on 'vigilance' after Davos spy fail
  2. What's Libya's impact on EU foreign policy?
  3. EU commission 'lacks ambition' on future conference
  4. Will US privacy-lite hollow out GDPR?
  5. Senior Polish member at EU body faces Belgian abuse probe
  6. Why isn't Germany helping gay rights in Hungary, Poland?
  7. US retiree, scammed by former EU official, awaits justice
  8. Vienna-Brussels night train returns amid EU green talk

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