Rhein on Energy and Climate

On September 13th the EU suffered a shocking defeat at the UN. It failed to obtain green light from the 192 members of the General Assembly, allowing the EU High Representative to play a more prominent role in the General Assembly, working groups and UN conferences.

To that end, the 27 EU member states had introduced a draft resolution, on August 31st, by which the EU representative would obtain the right to speak in a timely manner, make proposals and amendments, have the right of reply and obtain seating arrangements.

By a close vote of 76 against 71 and 21 abstentions the General Assembly decided to defer the issue to the 65th General Assembly, which is presently going on. Normally, the Resolution should pass in the next few weeks, though the 65th General Assembly is so packed with major substantive issues that will leave little room for procedural matters like the future role of the EU in the UN.

It is saddening to look at the list of the countries which have voted against the EU: essentially all ACP countries, most of the Arab countries, major emerging countries like China, India and Brazil, but also Commonwealth countries like Canada and Australia.

The EU has been able to rally no more than countries: candidate countries like Turkey, Serbia and Ukraine, a few Mediterranean countries like Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia, more than half of Latin America, Japan, Korea and Bangladesh.

It is understandable that China or India do not like to see the EU play a more visible role at the UN. The same goes for Iran.

It is also understandable that countries need some time to assess the EU move before giving their assent to what might be more than a procedural change at the UN. After all, according to the Lisbon Treaty the EU has the ambition to speak and act with one voice on the international scene.

If it speaks for its 27 member countries UN debates more take place more between a few big players or groups of players, leaving not much room for small isolated countries. That would make the UN more effective, without infringing on the principle of full equality between all its members, whatever their population or political weight.

The EU seems to have under-estimated the challenge. Even if Belgian and British diplomats in New York have conducted informal discussions on the issue during the last months, the time between the formal presentation of its draft and the vote, just two weeks, was certainly a bit short to expect a positive outcome. Worse, the EU has intervened too late in the 160 odd capitals for appropriate instructions to be given to their UN ambassadors; and such “demarches” relied essentially on EU Delegations without the necessary “heavy” backing from all member states.

Above all, the communication between Brussels and the ACP seems to have totally failed. Without a positive vote from the ACP countries, which receive the bulk of EU development assistance and have enjoyed free access to the EU market for the past 50 years, the EU draft resolution was doomed to fail.

Conclusion: the EU has to learn very rapidly what national governments understand genetically: how to lobby effectively and timely to defend its interests. And it should tell the ACP Group that it expects their support considering what is has done for each of them and the “African Union”, which the EU has encouraged and continue to support financially and politically.

Brussels 21.09 10 Eberhard Rhein

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