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Key elements of the International system

68 - European policy on UN reform

Grade: C+
Unity 2/5
Resources 3/5
Outcome 4/10
Total 9/20
Scorecard 2010/11: C+ (9/20)

The EU was divided over Security Council reform and failed to take advantage of its new enhanced status in the UN General Assembly.

In 2011, European diplomats focused on reforming the UNSC, a long-running issue, and on securing “enhanced observer status” for the EU at the UN. Together with Brazil, India and Japan, Germany launched a renewed drive to agree a reform of the UNSC that would give those four powers permanent seats. However, the initiative divided Europeans. Most member states, including France and the UK, technically supported Germany and its allies – the so-called G4 – in their quest for permanent seats on the UNSC. But a small minority consisting of Italy, Malta and Spain opposed the initiative. In March, the G4 launched a campaign to get the necessary 120 states to support a UNGA resolution in favour of reform. The initiative briefly gained momentum but did not ultimately succeed.

Meanwhile, the EEAS redoubled its efforts to win “enhanced observer status” in the UNGA, which would give the EU as such limited but concrete rights to intervene in debates. This was particularly sensitive because the UNGA had embarrassed the EU by voting to postpone a decision in 2010. However, a concerted and well-coordinated diplomatic campaign – with an emphasis on winning over sceptical small states in regions such as the Caribbean and the Pacific – gradually turned the tide in the EU’s favour. Nonetheless, it took a personal appearance and direct deal-making by High Representative Catherine Ashton in New York in May to finally win UNGA support. Nor was this victory entirely unproblematic. British officials, always lukewarm on the initiative, now feared the legal ramifications and political precedent of letting EU officials speak at UNGA meetings, and blocked the agreement of numerous EU common positions as a result. Some member states such as Finland spoke up strongly against the British position but many others did not treat it as a priority. Although this issue gained little publicity, it inevitably corroded the EU’s reputation as a bloc at the UN. A compromise deal was agreed in October but tensions remain.

Member States
Leaders:  France - Germany - Portugal
Slackers: Italy - Spain