Accessibility links

EU: Brussels Seeks Greater, More Coherent Role At UN

  • Ahto Lobjakas

The European Commission today urged EU member states to strengthen the union's position as a "central pillar" of the United Nations. Presenting a policy document calling for more effective EU cooperation within the UN, the bloc's external affairs commissioner, Chris Patten, said the EU's political influence should adequately reflect its economic clout.

Brussels, 10 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission policy paper on EU-UN relations is, at root, yet another attempt to address the most frustrating issue facing the bloc today.

In June, Javier Solana, the bloc's security policy coordinator, launched the first EU security strategy with the observation that the EU's global clout is nowhere near satisfactory, considering that it will soon comprise 25 member states, 450 million citizens, and already produces one-quarter of the world's economic output.

Today, the EU's external affairs commissioner, Chris Patten, narrowed down the focus but addressed essentially the same discrepancy. Two EU member states are among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and the EU is jointly by far the largest contributor to UN programs. But the EU has relatively little to show for it in the end.

Patten today argued strongly for a stricter interpretation of EU treaties, which already bind EU member states on the UN Security Council to "consulting and defending" agreed EU positions.

"We're not suggesting treaty changes, but I think there's much more that could be done to improve the coherence of EU foreign policy -- for example, in terms of, first, the role of the future foreign minister in bringing member states' positions together to avoid split votes on Security Council resolutions. The draft constitutional treaty that was prepared by the Convention [on the Future of Europe, in June] contains some interesting suggestions about this in Article 3 -- as a rule, the presentation of EU positions in the Security Council by the minister, for example. We want also to see clarified arrangements for the permanent members of the Security Council [Britain and France] to present and defend agreed positions."

The commission document notes that sensitive issues like Iraq actually make up a "tiny proportion" of the issues dealt with by the United Nations. Yet, although there is a coordinated EU position on "something like 95 percent" of UN resolutions, it often does not translate into joint, effective action. To improve the EU's record, the commission now wants to centralize UN-related decision-making. It says member states' representatives in Brussels should conduct timely consultations involving all areas of UN activity aimed at formulating and presenting joint EU positions.

Patten today said the EU's "attachment" to a multilateral foreign policy -- also a cornerstone of the draft EU security strategy presented in June by Solana -- cannot materialize unless the EU finds concrete and effective ways of strengthening its political influence in the United Nations and related organizations.

The commission document is timed to coincide with a wider drive toward UN reform announced by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan over the weekend.

Today's document does offer concrete ideas for improving EU-UN cooperation in most areas.

"This isn't, of course, just a matter of discussing the Security Council," says Patten. "The communication sets out for the first time the full depth and breadth of our relations [with the UN] -- from climate change to civilian crisis management and postconflict operations. For example, in the Balkans -- where I'm going this afternoon -- in Afghanistan, sustainable development, the [development] initiatives we took at Johannesburg and Monterrey, human rights, health, and social issues like the Global Health Fund, the fight against terrorism, and organized crime."

Patten said cooperation between the EU and the UN is already well established in all these fields. The European Commission contributes $300 million annually to UN development and humanitarian assistance programs and has -- in Patten's words -- "taken the lead" in implementing many key EU targets.

However, Patten said the EU is held back by the weakness of its coordination work in Brussels and a lack of sufficient advance consultation between EU services and UN agencies. The EU's common cause could also be helped, Patten said, if the commission established direct EU representation in UN bodies that deal with issues of community competence, such as the environment, humanitarian aid, and development.

Were EU member states to endorse today's document, Patten envisages the extension of the EU's "pro-active approach" -- already shown on issues, he said, like the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court -- to areas such as counterterrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and human rights.