21st Oct 2016

EU foreign policy chief misses UN meeting over speaking rights

  • The EU foreign policy chief wants to be pushed further up the speaking list (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Although the EU is the biggest donor to flood-stricken Pakistan, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton chose not to address Thursday's (19 August) special UN gathering on the devastated country because she does not yet have full speaking rights at the international forum.

Instead she phoned UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday to give details on the €105 million that the EU and its member states are providing to Pakistan.

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"I would have represented the European Union myself in this meeting but for the fact that the appropriate speaking rights are not yet in place and expressed my wish that this hurdle can be overcome as soon as possible," said Ms Ashton is a statement.

Belgian foreign minister Steven Vanackere, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, was sent to represent the union instead.

"We too very much regret this fact," said a European Commission spokesperson. "Cathy Ashton very much wanted to go, but we can't do that under the current rules."

According to a source, Ms Ashton was reportedly ready to go New York for Thursday's gathering having already spoken at other UN fora such as the nuclear non-proliferation and Haiti donor meetings earlier this year, but was told the rules on speaking could not be bent at the more formal UN General Assembly.

The current situation means that neither of the EU two top representatives - Ms Ashton or European Council President Herman Van Rompuy - can properly take the floor in the UN Assembly in the name of the bloc. The current status means Ms Ashton may speak but only at the end of the speakers' list, reserved for those with observer status.

The EU submitted a resolution to change the odd situation in July. The submission followed much debate within the EU itself about what to actually put in the resolution, with some keen to see it as a stepping stone to EU membership of the UN Security Council, something vehemently opposed by the UK.

In addition there was also much discussion with other UN member groups such as ASEAN (the Association of South Eastern Nations) and the African Union who wanted the same rights.

However, EU diplomats say they won the argument by saying that the European Union is more institutionally established than other looser regional groupings. They are confident the resolution giving the EU the right to speak, the right of reply, to right to make proposals and amendments, and circulate documents, will be passed in September. The EU will not win voting rights, however.

"It's quite a big symbolic victory," admitted one diplomat.

The rights requested by the EU have traditionally been the prerogative of the countries that hold the bloc's six-month rotating presidency.

But under the EU's Lisbon Treaty, which came into force on 1 December 2009, the EU is now represented abroad by Mr Van Rompuy and Ms Ashton.

"The high representative has been working very hard to have this this resolution adopted as soon as possible. And we are hopeful that the resolution will be adopted during the week of the UN General Assembly in September," Ms Ashton's spokesperson said.

EU and Wallonia still stuck on Canada accord

While EU ambassadors gave their tacit apporoval for a new text based on wallonia's requests, the French-speaking Belgian region again rejected to sign off the Canada-EU trade deal.

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