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6th Mar 2021

EU bid for more rights at UN suffers surprise defeat

  • The UN General Assembly chamber: Van Rompuy and Ashton will still be sitting off to the side near the Red Cross and the Vatican (Photo: tomdz)

The European Union suffered a defeat at the United Nations on Tuesday (14 September) in its attempt to win most of the rights enjoyed by fully-fledged UN members after other regional blocs said it was unfair that Europe would get a boost in its standing at the global body but not them.

A UN General Assembly resolution that sought to allow European Council President Herman Van Rompuy to address the UN chamber - no differently from US President Barack Obama or Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmedinejad - was narrowly defeated after a majority of nations voted to delay debate on the matter.

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The resolution would also have awarded the EU, which currently only carries observer status at the UN, 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 would also be additional seats put in the chamber for the EU's foreign policy chief, High Representative Catherine Ashton and her officials.

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.

However, a majority of countries, mainly from the developing world with regional blocs of their own, asked why the EU should win additional rights but not the Carribean Community, the African Union, or the South American Union.

A delaying motion, put forward by the Caribbean Community (Caricom), was backed by 76 nations to 71, with 26 abstentions.

The following session starts on Wednesday, but the agenda is already quite full and a return to the discussion is not expected until well into 2011.

As a result, it will remain the case that only the nation that holds the rotating presidency of the EU, currently Belgium, will be able to speak for Europe in the UN chamber.

The Belgian UN ambassador, Jan Grauls, had urged the delaying motion be defeated and encouraged nations to support the original resolution.

Acknowledging the feelings of the other blocs who feel snubbed by the EU's move, Mr Grauls had amended the wording to say that other regional organisations should be given similar rights in the future.

But the poorer nations argued that there had not been sufficient discussion on the matter for approval yet.

Surinamese ambassador Henry Mac-Donald, representing Caricom, said: "We submit that the draft text before us has not yet had the benefit of full consultations."

The defeat came as something of a surprise to European ambassadors, who had been hoping that the resolution would be approved in time for Mr Van Rompuy and Ms Ashton to represent the bloc at the UN's gathering of international leaders in New York next week.

The thinking behind the move had been to try to boost the EU's profile on the world stage, according to an EU diplomat.

A spokesperson for high representative Ashton told EUobserver that the result was disappointing but that the EU expected to win the vote next year.

"The procedural vote was naturally disappointing in view of the extensive consultations that have been carried out by the EU and its member states," said the individual.

"However, it was not a poll on the substance of the question and we are absolutely certain that there is wide support for this initiative in the United Nations."

The bloc is now to consult with other powers to push for a win, although Ms Ashton has ruled out backing stronger representation at the UN for other regional organisations.

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