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Scorecard The Europe Question

Is the EU a global force for human rights?

Published on 17 September, 2008

The European Union's leverage to promote human rights values and its vision of a rules-based world order has dramatically declined over the last decade, ECFR reveals in a new report, after analysing over ten years of UN voting statistics.

Click here to download the full report


Since the late 1990s, the EU has lost the regular support of 41 former allies on human rights votes, joining the United States in the group of leading world powers whose influence through the UN is in decline. In the later 1990s, EU positions on human rights were backed by over 70% of votes cast at the UN General Assembly. In the last two years, the level of support has fallen to around 50%.

The trend in support for Chinese and Russian positions in the same votes has been almost the exact opposite, leaping from around 50% ten years ago to 74% (China) and 76% (Russia) in the last General Assembly session. This reflects not only their outspoken commitment to sovereignty, but their diplomatic skill in playing the UN system.

"This paradox has come to the fore in 2008 as the EU has tried to work through the UN on Burma and Zimbabwe, yet been unable to get Security Council resolutions for action. These defeats come on top of previous setbacks for the EU at the UN in cases from Kosovo to Darfur," the report's authors, Richard Gowan and Franziska Brantner, point out.

"This is partially due to geopolitical shifts. But the EU has also been the architect of its own misfortune," the report says. "Europe has lost ground because of a reluctance to use its leverage, and a tendency to look inwards - with 1,000 coordination meetings in New York alone each year - rather than talk to others. It is also weakened by a failure to address flaws in its reputation as a leader on human rights and multilateralism."

The EU's decline at the UN is apparent in three key fora: the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, and the Security Council.

Click here for an explanation of the report's data sources and methodology, with links to the main UN information sites.

You can download the executive summary of this report in Bulgarian, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish

The report represents the views of its authors, and not the collective view of ECFR


Europe's UN human rights problem by Richard Gowan and Franziska Brantner, European Voice, 17 September 2008

Press clippings

Por qué deseo que gane Obama, ABC, 18 October 2008

L'influence de l'Union européenne à l'ONU mise à mal, European Parliament News, 14 October 2008

Serbia's triumph over EU double standards, The Guardian, 10 October 2008

Един съюз с все по-малко съюзници, Capital, 03 October 2008

Cash won't do it any longer for the EU in the UN, European Voice, 25 September 2008

UN's disunited members ponder reform, Financial Times, 23 September 2008

A l'ONU, les Occidentaux aux prises avec les puissances émergentes, Le Monde, 22 September 2008

À New York, Sarkozy defend le rôle de l'UE, Le Figaro, 22 September 2008

EU losing ground to Russia, China at UN, International Herald Tribune, 21 September 2008

Financial crisis also changing the political playing-field, Helsingin Sanomat, 20 September 2008

The East Bloc, Transitions Online, 19 September 2008

China's new clout, Globe and Mail (Canada), 19 September 2008

Les Européens affaiblis à l'Onu, juge un rapport, La Libre Belgique, 18 September 2008

Hemorrhaging of western influence at UN wrecks attempts to push human rights agenda, The Guardian, 18 September 2008

Europa pierde capacidad de influencia en Naciones Unidas, El País, 17 September 2008

EU facing ‘slow motion crisis' in UN, EU Observer, 17 September 2008

UNO: Europas Werte auf dem Abstellgleis, Die Presse, 17 September 2008

Kina og Russland tar Kontroll i FN, Aftenposten, 17 September 2008

EU faces diminished status in UN human rights debates, Deutsche Well, 17 September 2008





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