European impact in the multilateral system

70 - European policy on UN reform

Grade: C+
Unity 4/5
Resources 2/5
Outcome 3/10
Total 9/20
Scorecard 2012: C+ (9/20)

The EU failed to win “enhanced observer” status in the General Assembly – and was overruled by the US and developing countries on the governance of UN Women

There were few openings for fundamental UN reform in 2010, although there has been more discussion of Security Council reform. The main structural reform at the UN was the creation of UN Women, an agency that merges a number of pre-existing UN entities dealing with gender issues. The EU has also focused on its efforts to win “enhanced observer status” at the General Assembly to reflect the Lisbon Treaty.

The EU’s level of unity varies. On Security Council reform, Italy remains firmly opposed to Germany’s desire to secure a permanent (or “semi-permanent”) Council seat. On other issues, unity is far higher, but the EU was embarrassed when the US and developing countries overruled arguments that the governance structure of UN Women should be weighted in favour of major donors such as the Europeans. The US concluded that the board should give non-Western countries a strong voice, which the EU fears will compromise UN Women’s pursuit of gender equality.

The EU’s quest for “enhanced observer” status, which would give EU officials new rights to speak and make proposals in the UN General Assembly, caused more embarrassment. Although the EU had made it a priority to attain this special status for itself, it did not want it to be given to other regional groupings such as the African Union. (This was a concession to the US, which feared that a proliferation of “enhanced observers” could complicate UN diplomacy). Developing countries engineered a vote to postpone a decision on the issue shortly before the opening of the new UN General Assembly in September and even some friends of the EU, such as Canada and Australia, abstained – for some European diplomats, a sign of a broader loss of EU power at the UN. Germany and Portugal did, however, defeat Canada in a three-way competition for two temporary Security Council seats.