Global Policy Forum

European Union Wins Upgraded Role Within the UN General Assembly

The General Assembly has passed a historic resolution giving the European Union special rights to speak at the United Nations.  This is the first time a regional bloc has been allowed such representation, although the Vatican and Palestinian Authority have similar rights.  While the European Union now has a right of address and a right of reply in the General Assembly, it does not have voting rights.  This resolution sets a precedent for other regional blocs to be granted the same rights.

By Spencer Kimball

May 4, 2011

The European Union has won the right to participate more actively within the United Nations General Assembly. Although the 27-member democratic bloc can now speak with one voice, it still cannot vote on UN resolutions.

The European Union has won the right to speak with one voice within the General Assembly of the United Nations after an overwhelming vote of approval by UN member nations.

The General Assembly approved the EU's bid with 180 votes in favor and none against. Syria and Zimbabwe abstained while 10 countries did not participate. The General Assembly is the representative body of the UN where nations discuss global policy issues.

"Thanks to this resolution, the EU achieves an important recognition as a global actor at the UN," said European Council President Hermann Van Rompuy.

With a similar status to that of the Vatican and the Palestinian Authority, the EU can now address the General Assembly through its permanent officials as opposed to the ambassador of the country that holds the 27-member bloc's rotating presidency.

However, the EU cannot vote on resolutions.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton emphasized that the EU was not seeking to become a UN member state but instead "what you will hear is a clearer voice to the United Nations."

Second time is a charm

The EU originally sought to win its upgraded UN status in September 2010. However, the bid failed after regional blocs from other parts of the world - most notably the Caribbean bloc CARICOM and the African Union - objected out of concern that the EU would receive special rights.

Under the terms of the resolution, such groupings will also be entitled to similar treatment, should they ask for it.

Brussels has sought to create a single European voice on global issues after the painstaking approval of the Lisbon Treaty in 2007.

The Lisbon Treaty created the office of the President of the European Council as well as the High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security Affairs. Rompuy and Ashton are the first officials to fill these posts.

However, the EU's 27 member states have remained divided on issues ranging from the current NATO intervention in Libya to the status of Kosovo's independence from Serbia.


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