Here is another article fretting feebly over the fact that the European Union is ‘punching below its weight’ in global negotiations:
Although the EU is a minority bloc within the General Assembly and Human Rights Council (HRC), its power resources could in principle be wielded to help the EU gain approval for resolutions and positions that it considers important. Yet the EU has struggled to win over a majority of UN states in support of its views.
The EU’s difficulties are often attributed to internal obstacles including a lack of unity among its member states. Yet even when the EU does achieve unity and puts forward proposals, it can still be contested, outvoted and isolated.
The author, Professor Karen Smith, tries to work out how this can be, and what might be done about it in an impressive stream of weedy comparatives (my sarcasm):
How might the EU improve its ‘record’ at the UN? Certainly, a more (sic) consistent and unified approach would help, though paradoxically this could fuel suspicions of the EU as a powerful bloc. More importantly, the EU’s outreach efforts need to be improved as a matter of urgency (haha). The new EU delegations in New York and Geneva should facilitate and engage in more (sic) substantive and frequent consultations with other UN member states. In addition, the doubts that non-EU states can have about the EU’s message is an indication that the EU’s rhetoric can ring very hollow (Really? Say it’s not so).
Above all, a greater (sic) awareness of how other UN members receive the EU’s message – regardless of who is delivering it, whether the presidency or the head of the EU delegation or the High Representative herself – is necessary. Ways of altering the message and the way it is delivered so that it resonates more (sic) with potential allies should be considered (how?). In a world in which power is more diffused and the ‘north’ is no longer as dominant or central as it was once, smart diplomacy could help win over more delegates and allow the EU to achieve more at the UN.
Have we ever read anything more divorced from what diplomacy, smart or otherwise, actually is?
No, we haven’t.
The whole point of both the UN and EU is that nothing is consistent or unified or urgent or, especially, ‘smart. These organisations are all about rambling processes.
Those who achieve things achieve them by three routes. Patiently accumulating enough votes to get a result, usually riddled with compromises and so necessarily sub-optimal in key respects. The other is blocking: others who want a result will then pay you to unblock. Finally there is bribery: cunningly using carrots (or threatening to withhold them).
I previously have analysed in detail why the EU fails at the UN:
The fact that the EU has no policy at all on Cuba (since the EU in effect has outsourced its Latin America policy to socialist-led Spain) and a dopey one on Honduras
The EU’s on/off policy of engagement (or not) with Belarus
The startling sums of EU money wasted on ‘development’ in Africa with no serious way to include meaningful political conditionality
The fact that even where issues involving Europe itself are concerned, the EU can not come up with a united policy – see recognition of Kosovo. (That example of course also might be said to show the unwisdom of the UK pushing ahead with key allies without working up a coherent EU joint position first?)
Perhaps the worst thing the EU has done at the UN is to press in its silly self-absorbed way for the EU to be represented at the UN in its own right’:
In 2010, the EU unsuccessfully requested enhanced observer status in the General Assembly, which would allow EU representatives to speak in debates and make proposals. EU member states had argued that the status was necessary because they had to comply with the Lisbon Treaty, but other UN members did not accept that the EU should have such a privileged position…
The EU eventually succeeded in gaining its enhanced status, after more extended consultations with other UN members. In May 2011, the General Assembly agreed that the EU has the right to speak, make proposals, submit amendments and reply to other delegations. In exchange, the EU had to agree that other blocs could have the same rights as the EU, should they request them. In other words, to gain legitimacy the EU had to redraft its request to take into account the concerns about legality (equality of states) and democracy (allow other groups the same privileges).
These manoeuvres have wasted time and public money and encouraged an Orwellian-type outcome where assorted regional blocs burble at each other rather than do anything useful.
The ideas put forward by Professor Smith really totally miss the point. If the EU actually wants to get better outcomes at the UN (ie outcomes that help promote EU values and policies) as opposed to trying to sound important, it should simply sub-contract all UN issues to the UK and France as permanent UN Security Council members and tell them to do their best, as my earlier piece here said:
The opportunity cost of UK diplomats wearily haggling with EU partners over meaningless texts aimed at achieving ‘common positions’ is the time (and credibility) lost in not engaging hard with the emerging powers in the world on hard substance.
This fine piece by Helena Morrissey nails the issues for the EU as a whole:
I am convinced that the tide of influence is moving away from the top down, command-and-control, one-size-fits-all approach to business and politics.
Supranational organisations, overly bureaucratic corporations and undemocratic political unions will struggle increasingly to achieve progress. Scale is often neither the best nor the most human way to operate.
Smart people of all political persuasions are starting to recognise that smaller scale, more collaborative environments with space for difference and discussion are more relevant. Where people have real responsibility and accountability for outcomes – when they feel they have a real part to play, not just carrying out orders – the results are better…
It’s too fundamental a flaw to try to renegotiate our position from within the EU – the “project” has a life of its own, above and beyond nation states and communities, as evidenced by Lord Lamont’s recent amusing list of 140 EU “embassies” and the not-so-amusing costs involved.
One of the most important things I have learned from my work with the 30% Club is that collaboration, flexibility and operating at a personal and human level are the best ways to effect real sustainable change. The current EU for me is a model for the past. It is the old world.
Indeed. Can’t be said better.