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E.U. Pushes for Bigger Voice at U.N.

Aprille Muscara

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 13 2010 (IPS) - U.N. member states are expected to pass a resolution Monday that will grant the European Union unprecedented speaking rights during formal meetings of the General Assembly, of which the next session – it’s 65th – begins Tuesday.

“This is, indeed, new, and it is a very important development,” the executive director of a New-York based non-governmental organisation told IPS who asked not to be named. “It is a sign that the E.U. is beginning to act vigorously as an independent policy voice at the U.N. and this will change the way business is done,” the official added.

A draft of the resolution obtained by IPS seeks to allow the 27-member regional integration organisation to “have the right to speak in a timely manner, as is the established practice for representatives of major groups, the right of reply, the right to circulate documents, the right to make proposals and submit amendments, the right to raise points of order; and seating arrangements which are adequate for the exercise of these rights.”

Currently, only individual U.N. member states and countries holding observer status have the right to speak at formal general assembly meetings.

The country holding the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union has thus traditionally spoken on behalf of the E.U. during these U.N. meetings. Similarly, a single member state is appointed to speak on behalf of other regional groups or coalitions, such as the Group of 77 or the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

But because the December 2009 Treaty of Lisbon consolidated the bodies of the E.U., this rotating presidency is slated to be phased out. Current president Belgium, which began its term on Jul. 1, 2010, will be the last. As a result, the E.U. says it now needs a replacement spokesperson at the U.N.

As is the case for member states, this spokesperson could be a member of the E.U.’s delegation to the U.N., which is currently led by Ambassador Pedro Serrano. Or, it could be High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, European Commission President Jose Manuel Baroso or President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy – all of whom are expected to attend the upcoming high-level portion of the 65th general assembly session in late September.

“It’s only a procedural matter,” the E.U.’s Deputy Ambassador to the U.N. Peter Schwaiger told IPS. “If the African Union wants to do this, or the Arab League wants to do this, it is entirely up to them,” he said in a phone interview, claiming that the resolution wouldn’t give the E.U. an unfair advantage over other groups.

But others see the resolution as doing just that. “It would put one regional integration organisation at least on par with states holding observer status,” M.J. Peterson, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, told IPS.

Unless they submit similar resolutions of their own, other groups and coalitions would still have to be represented by appointed member states instead of their own officials and leaders.

“The E.U. wants to increase its presence at the U.N.,” Peterson explained. Indeed, it has.

“Ambassador Serrano’s E.U. team is ramping up and will have some 30 to 40 diplomats in the E.U. office by year-end,” the NGO executive told IPS. “The E.U. office hosted more than a thousand meetings of E.U. member states and others during 2009 and that number is only increasing in 2010.”

Thus, the resolution is said to reflect the growing role and influence of the E.U.

“Adoption would simply reaffirm what everyone knows,” Peterson, author of ‘The U.N. General Assembly’, told IPS, “that the E.U. members have gone further in regional integration than the members of any other regional integration organisation.”

Some believe the resolution also marks a new era of wider regional representation at the world body.

“The U.N. is the last bastion of unreconstructed state sovereignty,” Thomas Weiss, presidential professor of political science at the CUNY Graduate Center and director of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, told IPS.

The resolution therefore sets “an essential precedent in moving beyond the state-centric structure of the United Nations,” said Weiss, author of The United Nations and Changing World Politics. “This would open a Pandora’s box.”

*With additional reporting by Megan Iacobini de Fazio.

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