Global Policy Forum

There is a Seat on the UN Security Council for the European Union – The French Seat

According to this article, the European Union needs a seat on the Security Council in order for the EU and UN to coordinate their efforts. One possibility would be for the EU to take over the French seat, which critics argue is a relic of a by-gone era.  The French seat would be most logical because France is fully integrated into the European Union, while the United Kingdom is not.

By Commander Rick Denny

December 22, 2010

The United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and France are at a critical point in our shared history. The European Union, since the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, has made steady progress towards real relevance in the areas of politics, economics, and security. Functioning like a quasi-nation state, the Union ranks among the world’s most powerful political entities. Yet, its lack of representation in the United Nations decreases the efficiency of both organizations. A single substitution within the Security Council can correct this issue without opening up the Security Council to radical structural changes: the French seat on the Security Council should become an EU seat.

Ongoing discussions on revising the makeup of the UN Security Council , driven primarily by emerging world powers such as India and Brazil who, in part, feel the council fails to adequately reflect the dynamics of today’s world. Indeed, there are precedents for such a change: China replaced Taiwan in 1971, and Russia replaced the defunct Soviet Union in 1991. Now is the time to place the union on the Security Council, as its constitutional powers are strengthened with the implementation of the 2008 Lisbon Treaty. 

With over 500 million citizens, the European Union exercises significant treaty authority for its regional members, develops a common European defense policy, and produces almost 30 percent of the world’s economic output. Under the EU Treaty, member nations on the Security Council—Great Britain and France, along with any member serving a two-year tour on the council—keep other EU members informed of Security Council actions and ensure EU positions are upheld, as long as they don’t conflict with that nation’s positions. Although EU representatives play a significant role in brokering international agreements, coordination with the United Nations is unofficial, and both EU and UN efforts become unnecessarily complicated.

In contrast to the European Union, France currently exercises a level of influence through its seat on the Security Council beyond that justified by its military, political, or economic ranking in the world. France provides only 18 percent of the European Union’s gross domestic product ($2.097 trillion), ranking behind Germany ($2.81 trillion) and Great Britain ($2.128 trillion). Militarily, while France supports multinational organizations, such as NATO and a standing EU military force, direct French military influence is limited primarily to the Francophone regions of Africa. Outside Africa, France exercises greater political influence through the Security Council and the European Union than nationally.

Although it is unlikely that France will give up its Security Council position, there are reasons why it should. Since the days of Jean Monnet, France has championed a unified Europe that would act as a single entity in matters of economic and political interest. Likewise, the French support the inclusion of the G-4 (Germany, Japan, India and Brazil) on the Security Council. French support for a German seat is likely to minimize pressure for an EU seat. Unfortunately, G-4 inclusion on the Security Council is unlikely in the near term due to opposition to the inclusion of India, Japan, and Brazil by their regional neighbors. An effort to replace France with an EU representative is unlikely to receive the same level of opposition.       

There will be political ramifications of giving the European Union a seat on the Security Council. Other international unions, such as the African Union, may use an EU seat on the Security Council to press for their own UN representation. However, admission of the European Union to the Security Council will also provide a useful benchmark for the future, setting minimum criteria for the level of political, judicial, and economic integration required for admission. In the case of the African Union, that level of integration is almost nonexistent.

Any movement to replace France with an EU representative will also raise questions regarding Great Britain, the other EU member on the Security Council. At the present time, Great Britain is not a fully integrated EU member, retaining, among other powers, its own currency. This may justify delaying any change of Great Britain’s seat. 

Given regional opposition to G-4 inclusion on the Security Council, replacing France with the European Union is the more likely and would demonstrate UN responsiveness to member demands. The key question is: will France continue a slow retreat of the Tri-Colors or advance behind the banner of the European Union?


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