Strong multilateral system key to delivering for world’s most vulnerable, EU Foreign Policy Chief tells UN

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The COVID-19 pandemic is a test of the multilateral system’s ability to overcome global challenges through collective action, the European Union’s foreign policy chief told the Security Council in a videoconference meeting* on 28 May, where he called on the 15-member organ to overcome its differences and unite to resolve conflicts and reinforce international peace and security.

Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said the pandemic is shaking the very foundations of societies and exposing the vulnerabilities of the world’s most fragile nations.  “It can deepen existing conflicts and generate new geopolitical tensions,” he said, emphasizing the need to uphold and strengthen the rules-based international order with the United Nations at its core.  He added:  “At a time of global crisis, we need a Security Council able to take the necessary decisions — and not one that is paralysed by vetoes and political infighting.”

The High Representative spoke at the start of a Council debate on cooperation between the United Nations and regional organizations, particularly the European Union.  Noting that the bloc’s 27 member States are collectively the biggest contributor to the United Nations budget — and that they pay their dues in full and on time — he said that the European Union remains a staunch supporter of a strong United Nations as the beating heart of the multilateral system, “even as others may be backing away”.

In the area of peace and security, the European Union is a generous, reliable partner, he said, with 11 of its crisis‑management missions working alongside United Nations missions, and in some cases, sharing camps and barracks.  He described Africa as Europe’s “sister continent” and a strategic priority for the European Union, which cooperates very closely with the African Union, but warned that the situation in the Sahel is deteriorating at an alarming pace.  “We must be ready to do more and better” in that subregion and in the Horn of Africa, he said.  On Libya, he said the influx of weapons must be stopped, and described how the European Union’s recently deployed Operation IRINI is implementing the United Nations arms embargo.

Regarding the Middle East, he called for an approach that addresses individual crises, but also recognizes the inter-related nature of the region’s many conflicts, including the Israeli-Palestinian standoff.  The goal, he added, should be a genuine regional and cooperative security framework.

Turning to Syria, the High Representative said that the ceasefire in Idlib must be extended to the entire country and that the Council must renew its authorization for cross-border humanitarian operations into the north-west.  “I appeal to you not to play political games with the lives of the Syrian people,” he said.  “Have they not suffered enough?”  A fourth Brussels conference on Syria on 29 and 30 June will enable the international community to show its continued support to Syrians while also consolidating international backing for a political solution in line with Council resolution 2254 (2015).  He stressed the enduring importance of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme and expressed regret at the United States’ decision not to prolong waivers for nuclear projects related to that agreement.

He went on to discuss European situations, saying that the overall goal in the Western Balkans is for the subregion to progress along the path of reform, reconciliation and integration into the European Union.  Support for Ukraine’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity remains a key element in the bloc’s relationship with its Eastern European partners, he said, adding that the principles enshrined in the Helsinki Accords cannot be forgotten.  He portrayed the situation in Venezuela as a catastrophic economic and humanitarian emergency that is affecting the stability of the entire Latin American and Caribbean region.  He also expressed deep concern with China’s approval of national security legislation in Hong Kong, saying it does not conform with international commitments or the Basic Law of the Special Administrative Region.

Concluding his remarks, the High Representative said that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragilities of a hyper-globalized and interdependent world.  If the world is to build back better, as the Secretary-General of the United Nations has said, then it must recommit to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change.  “My main message today is that the European Union remains deeply attached to the rules-based international order, to multilateralism and to the United Nations,” but if multilateralism fails to deliver for those who need it most, it will lose its legitimacy while unilateralism and power politics gain the upper hand.  The world needs a revitalized multilateral system, but that will only come about if everyone in the international community invests in it, he said.  “This, the European Union is doing [and] we count on those who sit on the Security Council to do its part.”

In the ensuing discussion, speakers agreed on the value of the United Nations working more closely not only with the European Union, but with other regional organizations, as well, particularly the African Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  They also reiterated their delegations’ concerns on a host of issues ranging the COVID-19 pandemic, Iran’s nuclear programme and conflict in the Middle East and the Sahel to recent developments in Hong Kong.

The representative of the United States, providing several examples about the European Union’s role as an important partner in maintaining global peace and security, welcomed the bloc’s expanded cooperation with the United Nations.  “We are hopeful that the strong, invaluable trans-Atlantic relationship between the United States and the European Union provides a useful model to follow,” she said, pointing at cooperation on Ukraine, including countering a Russian Federation disinformation campaign designed to normalize Moscow’s occupation of the Crimean Peninsula and aggression in the country’s eastern areas.  The United States anticipates continued cooperation in holding Iran accountable for its malign activities.  Meanwhile, joint cooperation on Syria is essential to finding a political solution in line with resolution 2254 (2015), she said, expressing gratitude for European Union assistance in north-east Syria.  At the same time, the Security Council must renew resolution 2504 (2020), in light of both the humanitarian and COVID-19 crises.

More broadly, she highlighted the European Union contributions to the Global Coalition to Defeat Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), including efforts in Iraq, and also commended efforts in Libya and support in applying diplomatic and economic pressure on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to ensure that country’s final, full and verified denuclearization.  Welcoming the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, providing $5 billion in assistance to 26 countries to address sources of instability, displacement and irregular migration, she commended the bloc’s active role in such initiatives as counter‑terrorism, conflict prevention and capacity‑building.  Welcoming the recent donor conference to bridge the humanitarian gap for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, she said United States efforts have sought increased international and public support for a peaceful political resolution and financial pressure against the illegitimate regime of Nicolas Maduro.  As President Maduro has already stated that 2020 elections are not a priority amid the COVID-19 crisis, she said “we must prevent all efforts by him to stonewall this legitimate democratic process”.


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