UN reform: Where is the EU ?

A short insight in the difficult reform process of the United Nations

, by Ferran J. Lloveras

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

UN reform: Where is the EU ?

The UN structure is an acronym of the immediate post-WW2 period. It has very little to do with the realities of today’s world. The need for a change has been evident for quite some while, and is even more visible today with the Security Council loosing its role as the prime arbiter at the international scene. So, how is the reform process progressing, if at all, and what role is the EU playing, if any?

Despite the disappointing outcome of the 2005 world summit in terms of reform of the UN, the reform is an ongoing process. The United Nations Development Group continues its efforts to improve the delivery of UN cooperation at country level. Meanwhile, a few months ago the General Assembly approved a resolution on the creation of a new Human Rights Council that will replace the discredited Human Rights Commission. This was one of the 52 conditions set by the US Congress to allow payment of its mounting arrears to the organisation. The commission falls certainly short of what the desirable outcome would be, namely a Human Rights court with powers equal to those of the European Court of Human Rights created by the Council of Europe, which would work together with the International Penal Court. This, of course, is not what the US government wants it to be, though. Yet it is a positive development in the right direction.

As far as the EU and its member states are concerned, they carry their agreed positions forward in many instances. Their role has been very important in the adoption by UNESCO of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, in the debates leading to the creation of the new Human Rights Commission, and thus in debates about UN reform in ECOSOC, and in many other cases.

Nevertheless, and most regrettably, the EU has been incapable of speaking with one voice regarding the most controversial issue for UN reform: the Security Council. Whereas in other cases a common definition of interests that encompasses those of the Europeans with a humanist perspective has been possible and welcomed, any talks on serious reform of the Security Council encounter the fiercest defence of narrow minded national interests. There are two EU member states that hold permanent seats in the Security Council, as well as prime positions among the five biggest arms traders in the world, together with the other permanent members. Germany, watched closely by Italy and Spain, is seeking a permanent seat, but the only change the US would sponsor is a new seat for Japan, second largest contributor and prime ally of the US in the Asia-Pacific region. This is fiercely opposed by China. The situation is further complicated by the aspirations of several regional powers, such as India, South Africa and Brazil, and the divisions within their respective regional groups.

Even being conscious of the interests at stake, it is still greatly disappointing to see the EU being incapable of reaching a common position and thus become the reference for other regions. This is not only about interests but also about political will. How long it will take us to see such a thing happening?

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