The Progressive Post https://progressivepost.eu Tue, 13 Oct 2020 16:02:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.2 https://progressivepost.eu/wp-content/uploads/cropped-favicon-32x32.png The Progressive Post https://progressivepost.eu 32 32 For a European Semester that addresses inequalities https://progressivepost.eu/progressive-page/for-a-european-semester-that-addresses-inequalities/%20 Mon, 12 Oct 2020 16:31:49 +0000 https://progressivepost.eu/?p=27572 Against the backdrop of the major EU recovery plan that was decided in July, the European Semester will play a key role in the implementation of the national recovery plans, that are to be submitted by mid-October. The reform of the Semester process was already in the pipeline, but it now becomes essential to raise …

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Against the backdrop of the major EU recovery plan that was decided in July, the European Semester will play a key role in the implementation of the national recovery plans, that are to be submitted by mid-October. The reform of the Semester process was already in the pipeline, but it now becomes essential to raise up expectations and transform this fundamental coordination tool into a useful instrument able to grasp those changes affecting vital aspects of our daily life: health, education and work.

The key recommendation we give is to start monitoring inequalities in the framework of the European Semester. At present, the statistics solely focus on absolute poverty and that does not offer information about the trends affecting the European middle class. Formulating country-specific recommendations to improve the life of the “squeezed middle class” can only be done if the indicators of the Semester are upgraded.

Monitoring work precariousness, households’ financial insecurities and access to key services like child and elderly care has to be part of the European toolkit for the coordination of the recovery.

Introduced exactly a decade ago, the European Semester process soon became the pivotal tool for economic coordination in Europe and in essence it epitomises the way to steer an economic doctrine across the EU.

Initially anchored in the jointly agreed targets of the Europe 2020 Strategy, it soon abandoned those shared goals to focus on the priorities of the Barroso Commission. It has been used, at least for the first few years, almost uniquely to serve the objective of fiscal consolidation. There is no need here to stress how much that has compromised the ability of the European public sector to counteract the different socio-economic emergencies and how much it has fuelled disaffection with the European project in particular and politics in general.

Indeed, the Semester has evolved and thanks to the political agenda and the Social Scoreboard enshrined in the European Pillar of Social Rights, we have started to see country-specific recommendations promoting social investment and social dialogue. Finally, green and climate concerns have become more central for an annual growth survey that now addresses sustainability as the backbone of a growth strategy.

That is however not enough, particularly in view of the dire consequences of the pandemic. With 6 million new unemployed and 20% of youth out of work due to Covid-19, European Institutions need to go beyond the provision of funds. The Next Generation EU and SURE are good news but we must dare to change the economic paradigm once for all. So that forward-looking investment, protection of incomes and quality of public services, such as health, are not only the response to a crisis but become the norm: the goal of the European public sector.

The EU can be a beacon of wellbeing and prosperity for this continent and the European Semester is the focal policy through which such a new course shall be established.

In line with the European Parliament report on ‘combating inequalities as a lever to boost job creation and growth’ we also believe that “inequalities threaten the future of the European project, erode its legitimacy and can damage trust in the EU as an engine of social progress”.

All too often, Europe has prioritised macroeconomic stability and failed to understand that social stability and cohesion are essential for economic and political stability. It is no longer possible to ignore the distributional effects of macroeconomic policy and EU recommendations.

There is overwhelming evidence that socio-economic well-being is a prerequisite for sustainable and inclusive growth as well as for political stability. We have learned to admit that too much inequality is bad for growth. It is now time to go one step further and recognise that equality is the foundation of the type of growthwe want for Europe and for Europeans.

It is no surprise that the Covid-19 outbreak has not affected countries and communities evenly. The pandemic, as well as its economic consequences, threaten vulnerable groups and people experiencing poverty and social exclusion particularly. A special effort is necessary if we do not want to see Europe emerging from this crisis more unequal than it was before.

Therefore, we recommend refocussing the European Semester strongly toward the fight against inequality – for a healthier society that delivers healthier economic outcomes.

The Policy Study on Inequalities and the European Semester offers an operational definition of inequality that could and should serve as a prism to rethink the European Semester.

The first consequence of this new approach would be to revise the indicators of the Semester to correctly monitor inequality. This would imply applying indicators of precarity, job and financial insecurity, and access to opportunities – such as childcare and social or health services.

A second consequence would be to start using the European Semester framework to steer the other side of national public finances: not the expenditure, but the revenue side. Personal income taxation, corporate taxation, wealth and inheritance taxes and environmental taxes are instead central mechanisms to address inequality and secure opportunities for all.

As the authors explain, by expanding the focus from poverty to inequality, from the bottom of the income distribution to the whole distribution of incomes and opportunities, our Union would be better equipped to address the sharp decline in socio-economic conditions that the European middle class is facing.

The economic governance of the European Union has changed fast to adapt to the unexpected pandemic and its effects. Now, a serious reflection has to be done to re-define the goals of the interventionism and coordination carried out by the EU via the European Semester. If we are serious about leaving to the next European generation a more sustainable, socially equitable and economically stronger Union, a full-fledged strategy to fight inequalities is the way to go.

*This text was originally published on Euractiv.

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“Strategic Autonomy”, a new European concept https://progressivepost.eu/debates/next-global/strategic-autonomy-a-new-european-concept/%20 Tue, 06 Oct 2020 13:04:09 +0000 https://progressivepost.eu/?p=27564 The last European Council raised “strategic autonomy” to the level of a central concept for a new phase of the European project. The implications will be multiple not only for external, but also for internal policies. The Covid-19 crisis has exposed multiple weaknesses of European integration: failures in supply chains in vital products, public health …

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The last European Council raised “strategic autonomy” to the level of a central concept for a new phase of the European project. The implications will be multiple not only for external, but also for internal policies. The Covid-19 crisis has exposed multiple weaknesses of European integration: failures in supply chains in vital products, public health cooperation, the functioning of the European internal market as well as its dependence on the outside world in key economic products. All this at a time when international cooperation and the multilateral system are undermined from the inside, as many world political leaders mentioned in their speeches at the recent United Nations General Assembly to commemorate its 75th anniversary.

We are on our way to a new world order, but it remains to be known which one. Two major developments will determine this new world order: the emergence of nationalist and authoritarian leaders, including in the US, and China’s emergence as a global hyperpower.

China is raising the level of the geo-strategic game with a full toolbox to develop global influence. This started with worldwide export, upgrading the added value chains with active industrial, training and research policies. It continued with China building an attractive internal market, attracting foreign direct investment, buying strategic assets everywhere in the world with the backing on banks and sovereign wealth funds. It is finally extending global influence with the multiple networks of the One Belt, One Road initiative and by taking positions in the outer space and in the cyberspace.

What will the new global order look like and what should be the European preference?

In fact, there are three possible basic scenarios.

First, the ongoing fragmentation of the current global order and the emergence of a polycentric structure with zones of influence. The different poles and their zones of influence can also become increasingly inward-looking and use a weakened multilateral system for their particular needs. So far, this seems to be the most likely scenario.

Second, a ‘Western revival’, particularly if the current US president loses the upcoming elections. This might not substantially change much the US attitude to trade, but it could certainly bring a new American attitude to climate, peace and security or human-rights standards, as well as a new American commitment to the UN system. Nevertheless, we already are in a new world order now, and even if it should materialise, this Western revival would no longer be enough to prevent the first scenario.

A third scenario could be a renewed international cooperation with a multilateralism for the 21st century. The chances for such a scenario depend on building a large coalition of forces involving states, regional organisations, civil society entities of different kinds, and also citizens wherever they are in the world, even under authoritarian regimes and ones that are against -multilateralism. This would be a global coalition of progressive forces, which could count on a core of strongly committed forces as well as on a variable geometry according to different objectives.

The European Union should not aim at just being another pole in the first scenario or just remaining a Western partner of the US. The EU needs to assert its values and preferences while pushing for a new multilateral system.

The European Union is now on the path of developing stronger instruments of European sovereignty in the budgetary, economic, social and environmental fields, and it should aim at asserting itself as a fully-fledged political entity with a vital interest in defending and updating a multilateral system at world level. It should be a driving force in building a global coalition of allies.

These alliances may vary depending on the objectives. The European Union and China can work together on topics as climate change and pandemics, but they will be in different camps with regard to human rights and democracy.

Furthermore, there is a new frontier where global governance needs to be increased, and which must be fully understood in all its implications. Cyberspace, as a new dimension of reality, is being massively amplified and transformed by the combined effect of the Internet of Things that connects trillions of objects and services to artificial intelligence. So far, we are heading to a geostrategic competition in cyberspace which will have huge implications for all the other dimensions of reality. But this huge potential can also be used to improve the algorithms of governance at all levels, including global governance, provided we build a global governance of cyberspace. Until now, this governance is still inconsistent and fragile.

The European Union will have to act on this subject, with external as well as internal policies, if it wants to develop its own path to digital transformation, very different from the American and Chinese in several areas: the use of big data to improve public services, the online working conditions, the protection of privacy and democracy, the security conditions, the tax obligations of large platforms. Here is a good example on how EU’s strategic autonomy and the renewal of the multilateral framework should be developed together.

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The EU and Belarus: doing less might be better https://progressivepost.eu/progressive-page/the-european-union-and-belarus-doing-less-might-be-better/%20 Wed, 30 Sep 2020 18:18:02 +0000 https://progressivepost.eu/?p=27561 It is easy to call for EU action in crises at the borders of the bloc. And in the case of Belarus, these calls have been made again. But the European Union must acknowledge that the Belarusian case cannot be considered without thinking of Russia, and that in some crises it has little political weight. …

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It is easy to call for EU action in crises at the borders of the bloc. And in the case of Belarus, these calls have been made again. But the European Union must acknowledge that the Belarusian case cannot be considered without thinking of Russia, and that in some crises it has little political weight.

In early 2020, four years after the European Union had lifted most of its punitive measures, including travel bans and asset freeze, against Belarus, the bloc carried out a review of its relations with the country. The report that resumed the findings states: ‘For the past four years, EU-Belarus cooperation has increased. EU assistance to Belarus has doubled to around €30 million annually. […] The “Belarus National Action Plan on Human Rights” underpins the process of domestic reforms.’

Less than half a year later however, Belarus and as a consequence the EU’s relations with the country are in the deepest crisis ever, with highly uncertain international consequences, which could potentially be dangerous. The crisis in Belarus is a painful reminder of how narrow the EU’s room for manoeuvre in its own neighbourhood is. Realistically, what can the EU do for Belarus?

First – and most importantly –, the European Union’s influence in Belarus is very limited. This is a lesson we have learned before. The EU has never been able to force political change in Eastern Partnership countries as long as the political elites in power do not concur with the ambitions of the EU and actively work towards realising them. The national leaderships in the eastern neighbourhood have long been portrayed as pawns in a geopolitical competition with Russia. At the same time, the EU was reluctant to admit being in this competition in the first place. But these political elites are not mere pawns. They control their countries’ trajectories, for which they do not depend on the European Union. It is rather vice-versa: the EU depends on them.

Second, the European Union has few interests in Belarus – with some notable exceptions though (see points three and four). For the EU, economic relations with Belarus are close to insignificant. The only exception could have been energy transfer, but the pipelines that run through the country were formally taken possession of by Russia a few years ago. For Belarus, the situation is different: the European Union is the country’s second trading partner. It’s relations with the EU however are dwarfed by those with Russia, in practically all respects.

Third, for the EU, political stability in Belarus is imperative. Instability entails a host of risks, from the safety of nuclear power plants to undesirable migratory flows. Lukashenko had kept a firm grip on his country, ensuring a high degree of political stability right in the heart of Europe. This was in everybody’s objective interest. Given the structure of the Belarusian economy and its workforce, its relations with Russia are key. A shock ‘Europeanisation’ of the Belarusian economy would be a recipe for short-term disaster.

The road to Minsk runs through Moscow.

Fourth, Europe’s most important interest in Belarus is Russia. The Belarussian question is above all a geopolitical issue. Belarus is a weak and not fully sovereign country. Russia is and will remain the decisive player in Belarus. Improving relations with Russia is the abiding interest of the EU. As a consequence, the road to Minsk runs through Moscow.

The conclusion imposes itself: the EU did not have a Belarus front-page policy, because it did not need one. And if the European Union wants to continue to pursuing its own major interests, it will keep aloof from developments in Belarus and rather focus on improving relations with Russia.

But the crisis in Belarus is also about democracy and human rights. This is the single real political issue, because it is the only topic where the European Union can make real choices. Democracy and human rights however are a tricky business for the EU. While human rights are a key aspect of the EU’s self-perception (and an important source of internal division), the EU’s capacity to actually promote human rights beyond its own borders (and increasingly also within them) is restricted.

The first response to crises like the one in Belarus is often: something must be done, the credibility of the EU is at stake. (Check Josep Borell’s statement before the European Parliament on 15 September). What precisely should be done in these situations is, however, almost secondary.

But does this imply that we should forget about human rights and democracy in Belarus? The answer is no. Political change is possible in our eastern neighbourhood, but more engagement by the EU is probably not the best way to support this change. The longer-term (geo-)political options for Belarus are limited, but not necessarily bleak. The popular upheaval and regime transition in Armenia in 2018 are an instructive example. They show that Moscow is prepared to accept changes in its environment, even in countries that are deeply integrated into Russian-dominated organisations. But only as long as the opposition does not have far-reaching geopolitical aspirations, as the West does not explicitly interfere with the protests, and as Moscow has a reasonably reliable interlocutor (almost always a representative from the ancien régime).

Criticism of the fairly passive attitude of the EU in the Belarus crisis might sound morally well, but it carries little political weight.

There is much criticism of the fairly passive attitude of the EU in the Belarus crisis. Wrongly so. Such criticism might sound morally well, but it carries little political weight. Of course, human rights are important. But for a more effective foreign policy, the European Union would do better to adapt its foreign policy aspirations to its political weight. And in the Belarusian case, this is limited.

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Sophisticated tools – weak principles https://progressivepost.eu/progressive-page/a-sophisticated-toolbox-in-lack-of-moral-leadership/%20 Fri, 25 Sep 2020 09:46:48 +0000 https://progressivepost.eu/?p=27550 With its ‘New Pact on Migration and Asylum’, the European Commission has taken on one of the most divisive and controversial issues within the bloc. And one that puts its own human rights record most prominently on the spot. The outcome are elaborate proposals, heavy on procedure but weak on moral principles and values, and …

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With its ‘New Pact on Migration and Asylum’, the European Commission has taken on one of the most divisive and controversial issues within the bloc. And one that puts its own human rights record most prominently on the spot. The outcome are elaborate proposals, heavy on procedure but weak on moral principles and values, and on embedding in international commitments.

The blaze that destroyed Europe’s largest asylum seekers camp, the pandemic that closed overnight the external border of the EU and the inexorable economic crisis that put tens of million European citizens out of work are the backdrop against which Ursula Von der Leyen announced on 23 September the EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum.

In response to challenges posed by migration and its governance, the New Pact contains a broad array of measures aimed at restoring trust between Member States while bringing clarity to would-be migrants and asylum seekers. Just to list a few of them, measures include: speeding up asylum border procedures and decisions on protection or return, making full use of the EURODAC (European Asylum Dactyloscopy) database to deter unauthorised movements to Member States other than those where an asylum claim is filed, tracking support for voluntary departure and reintegration in origin countries. Moreover, the New Pact offers flexible options to Member States, such as a choice between relocating recently arrived migrants and sponsoring the return of a migrant with no right to stay on behalf of another Member State. It foresees the recognition of the specificities of search and rescue in EU law. It advocates increased support to Frontex and the definition of common rules for preventing unauthorised entry or residence, while preventing the criminalisation of humanitarian actors. The New Pact also reaffirms a number of existing provisions, from the fight against migrant smuggling and employers who hire migrants without the required legal status, to cooperation with the EU’s international partners in migration-related issues.

The New Pact is mostly designed to ease tensions between Member States. In particular, removing the Dublin regulation would reduce Mediterranean frontline states’ resentment to the EU, as it would make it possible to distribute migrants arrived by sea across Europe as soon as they disembark. The option to take full responsibility for returning a rejected asylum applicant on behalf of another state instead of relocating an asylum seeker on their territory could satisfy Member States that do not accept relocation. However, the Pact lacks the explicit commitment to moral principles that would increase the trust of citizens in EU institutions.

The communication on the New Pact on Migration and Asylum contains no reference to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM).

First, in its thirty pages, the Communication on a New Pact on Migration and Asylum contains no reference to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). One must remember that two years ago, when an acute crisis of the governance of migration was just closing, almost all nations of the world adopted the GCM. For the first time, universal principles to promote the well-being of migrants and ensure effective respect of all their human rights were spelled out. By ignoring the Global Compact, the EU Pact seems to send the message that EU Member States stand above the rules that the United Nations have been striving to articulate. Ironically the European pact oblivious to the GCM was announced the very day the general debate of the 75th United Nations General Assembly starts. By doing so, the EU turns a blind eye to the many human rights violations taking place on European territory.

Second, the EU Pact silences what went wrong with migration so far and therefore doesn’t solve these problems. While the Pact rightly reaffirms the EU’s need for migrants’ skills and talents, the virtues of international mobility of students and researchers, as well as the necessity to integrate migrants and their families in society, it overlooks existing obstacles to successful inclusion. More precisely, it says nothing about xenophobia, discrimination and intolerance which are critical impediments to smooth integration and the building of cohesive societies. Eliminating them is a priority, though.

Third, the Pact contains no anticipatory response to future refugee crises. One of the reasons that huge numbers of migrants arrived by sea and then stranded in Greece and Italy in 2014-2016 was the combination of two facts: the unavailability of asylum channels allowing people in search of international protection to reach Europe directly from countries in the Middle East, and the Dublin Regulation that keeps them in the country where they first entered the EU until their claim is fully processed. Amending or abolishing the Dublin Regulation as proposed by the New Pact is only half of the response. The other half must be securing legal access to Europe to file an asylum claim. For this, two instruments must be promoted: resettlement and the deliverance of asylum or humanitarian visas. By doing so, the EU would affirm its loyalty to its founding principle of protecting fundamental rights and respecting human dignity.

With the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, the European Commission offers a sophisticated toolbox, but it lacks moral leadership.

With the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, the European Commission offers a sophisticated toolbox, but it lacks the moral leadership European citizens would need to regain their faith in EU institutions that has been profoundly undermined by a host of issues, not least policymaking on migration.

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What should be done about the United Nations? https://progressivepost.eu/progressive-page/what-should-be-done-about-the-united-nations/%20 Mon, 21 Sep 2020 13:18:50 +0000 https://progressivepost.eu/?p=27543 The global health, climate and economic crises have led to a deterioration of the world order as we knew it. The gap between current global challenges and global governance is widening and weakening the multilateral system. A new, fair and inclusive multilateralism for the 21st century must be invented, write Maria João Rodrigues and Conny …

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The global health, climate and economic crises have led to a deterioration of the world order as we knew it. The gap between current global challenges and global governance is widening and weakening the multilateral system. A new, fair and inclusive multilateralism for the 21st century must be invented, write Maria João Rodrigues and Conny Reuter.

Reforms of the UN will be under discussion at the 75th UN General Assembly (UNGA) starting on 21 September, a unique opportunity to rebuild the multilateral system. This historic GA will be the scenario of a big confrontation between those who are against international cooperation, those who want to keep it as it is and those who want to change it. This is a make-or-break moment for international cooperation, and it will probably be a turning point in shaping the emerging new global order. The European Union has a vital interest in this but cannot act alone.

What will the new global order be like? In fact, there are three possible basic scenarios. A first scenario would feature a fragmentation of the current global order and the emergence of a polycentric structure with zones of influence, including the new ones connected with China. These different poles and zones of influence may be tempted to become more inward-looking and exploit a weakened multilateral system to meet their own goals. So far, this seems to be the most likely one.

A second possible scenario would be characterised by a sort of Western revival, particularly if the current political situation in the US is reversed in the upcoming presidential elections. If this may not imply a change in the US attitude to trade, it could certainly bring a new American approach to the fight against climate change, to the promotion of human rights standards, as well as to an American re-commitment to the UN system. Nevertheless, as the balance of power has radically changed in today’s world, this Western revival would probably co-exist with the first one.

A third possible scenario would be the renewal of international cooperation with a multilateralism for the 21st century. The chances for its success depend on building a large coalition of forces involving willing states, regional organisations, civil society actors, and also active citizens around the world, even under authoritarian or anti-multilateral political regimes. The European Union is now on the path to developing stronger instruments of European sovereignty in the budgetary, economic, social and environmental fields, and it should aim at asserting itself as a fully-fledged political entity with a vital interest in defending and updating a multilateral system at world level, and in building up a global coalition of allies.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a sad reminder that our most critical challenges flow across borders and can only be dealt with through coordinated action. Our interconnected problems demand interconnected solutions and to do so, we need a new, fair and inclusive multilateralism, which is not only more effective but also more legitimate.

To start with, several emblematic measures are needed:

– The vaccines against COVID-19 and pandemics, to be attributed the statute of vital global goods with universal access;

– A new Social Contract, ensuring universal access to health care, education and social protection and environmental quality for all citizens;

– Recovery plans that protect companies and jobs and are aligned with SDGs, and new sources of taxation, notably digital, financial, carbon and wealth taxes;

– A worldwide commitment to fully implement the Paris Agreement on climate change and share the costs of our global commons of biodiversity, forests and oceans;

– Access to digital literacy and internet connections to become generalised, basic social rights to be established for all platform workers in the world and common international standards that frame the use of big data and artificial intelligence;

– Compulsory mainstreaming of gender balance in all public policies and budgets.

We should also call for an updated UN system that reflects the political and social composition of today’s world and that ensures a more coherent and consistent global governance. Only by ensuring a stronger set of UN competences for norm-setting in the health, social, environmental, digital, and migration arenas, can we tackle global challenges. Interactions between the UN system and other multilateral organisations, notably financial and trade organisations such as the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO, and organisations at regional level need to become more systematic.

We should also explore setting up an inter-parliamentary network, composed of representatives from national parliaments and regional organisations, as an additional consultation body and as a space for regular exchanges on the global agenda. Last but not least, we should promote a Global New Deal aimed at building a more democratic, fair and sustainable order in different fields, starting with health, social and climate.

*This text was originally published on Euractiv on September 16.

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A too Teutonic talk https://progressivepost.eu/progressive-page/a-too-teutonic-talk/%20 Thu, 17 Sep 2020 12:50:07 +0000 https://progressivepost.eu/?p=27538 As we learned from the great British historian Eric Hobsbawm, tradition is something that is invented. The tradition of State of the Union (SOTEU) speeches by the European Commission president was invented in 2010, in the wake of the great financial crisis. It has always provided a panorama of EU policies, sending out open or …

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As we learned from the great British historian Eric Hobsbawm, tradition is something that is invented. The tradition of State of the Union (SOTEU) speeches by the European Commission president was invented in 2010, in the wake of the great financial crisis. It has always provided a panorama of EU policies, sending out open or encrypted messages about priorities and concerns, endeavouring to rally parliamentarians and other stakeholders to tackle the key challenges of the period. It also became the annual exercise to highlight the real opportunities and initiatives to move the integration forward, and in which unfortunate fields the Commission is only aiming managing expectations.

EP Plenary session – State of the Union

In the year of the coronavirus, the SOTEU had to tackle the pandemic first and foremost. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen took the royal road to thank all the frontline workers of Europe, and gave a positive response to the July decision of the European Parliament to create a Health Union. Remember that until recently those who wanted to shrink the Brussels bureaucracy routinely pointed to the health portfolio as one to be culled in the absence of real competences. Now, it is the realm of real breakthrough.

If a motto was to be found behind von der Leyen’s rhetoric, this motto would be: “Wir schaffen das. What was said by Angela Merkel in 2015 amidst the dramatic refugee crisis, is now the underlying philosophy of von der Leyen in the maelstrom of COVID-19: we will cope with this, we will control this, and we will recover even stronger. Objectively, this message is not false: since April, the EU has displayed a host of bold and forward-looking measures. However, while Merkel had already entered the Pantheon of politics for proving her opponents wrong, von der Leyen is still at the beginning of her European journey, and her speech appeared less titanic and more Teutonic than necessary.

With von der Leyen, Manfred Weber and Ska Keller in the roles of the lead speakers, and Michael Roth playing himself at the end (as Europe minister representing the German presidency), this plenary looked like a proxy Bundestag, with visiting Southern Socialists like David Sassoli and Iratxe Garcia Perez.

The spirit of Wir schaffen das came through at least on three accounts: when von der Leyen spoke about migration towards the end (to remain true to the origin of the expression), but also when she elaborated on the COVID-19 crisis, and at great length when she outlined the vision, ambition and targets to tackle the climate challenge.

The speech was about projecting European confidence, but a most important undertone of the speech was about the German origins of the crisis response on various fronts. This was more than appropriate when von der Leyen proudly highlighted the newly created instrument, called SURE, providing EU-financed loans for the implementation of Kurzarbeit (short-time work) schemes. She explicitly referred to her time as minister of employment, to convince the audience that the vehicle she is selling surely works. She even doubled down by extending the sales exercise to the minimum wage (which in reality was only introduced in Germany after she moved from employment to the defence portfolio and the Social Democrat Andrea Nahles took over at Wilhelmstrasse).

On the other hand, it was not entirely appropriate to highlight the German connection when the speech arrived at the question of rule of law, and when von der Leyen invoked Walter Hallstein, the only previous German Commission President (1958-67). While it is true that the word Rechtsstaat (rule of law) was introduced in Germany over two hundred years ago, and that despite contradictory episodes the concept somehow survived in the country of origin, the way Hallstein popularised the term ‘community of law’ was not primarily about the quality of democracy and the functioning of checks and balances within the Member States. In reality, it was a way to underscore the role of law in the European project, which has been described by political scientists precisely as ‘integration through law’.

Where von der Leyen managed to be surprisingly inspirational with an unexpected German reference was the unveiling of the idea of a New European Bauhaus. This should not only appeal to design nerds, but to everybody who is sick and tired of references to the Californian Silicon Valley, which are supposed to make us all feel inferior, and aspire for deregulation and venture capital. Bauhaus was indeed a remarkable centre of European creativity in the interwar years, until the Nazis found it too cosmopolitan and evicted the artists first from Dessau and then also from Berlin. László Moholy-Nagy relaunched the project in Chicago as New Bauhaus and promising a new European edition today might signal the birth of a brand comparable to Erasmus. (Of course, it may also happen that this becomes a quickly forgotten bon mot.)

With a Europe built out of Kurzarbeit, Rechtsstaat and Bauhaus, nothing can go wrong. Still, reactions to the speech, including from Iratxe Garcia Perez, rightly asked the question where the social dimension was. Did the Commission President notice that the coronavirus caused not only a health crisis but also a social one, and an anti-poverty strategy would be timely?

For sure, the minimum wage is a more than strategic initiative, but the Child Guarantee should not just be left on the roadside. This reductionism was not just accidental. One should not forget that originally von der Leyen wanted Nicolas Schmit to be a Commissioner for Jobs only, and that Social Rights were added to his title at the insistence of the Socialists and Democrats. This omission is rooted in a certain German ideology, which recognises the importance of EU level employment policy (to the extent it helps feeding the labour demand of the Mittelstand by boosting mobility), but rejects the EU role in social policy, and in particular in ensuring the access of migrant workers to equal social rights and standards.

A similar omission or superficial approach could be observed on the question of rule of law, von der Leyen clarified that the name of the game is to protect the “money from our budget”, without even hinting to the need to protect the people in the countries hijacked by aspiring dictators. We have to acknowledge that she went beyond mentioning fraud, corruption and conflict of interest, and added issues concerning the freedom of press, the independence of judiciary, and the sale of golden passports as controversial ones. However, speaking about “prevention” after so many years of degeneration in Hungary and Poland, may not have been sufficiently convincing for the MEPs, especially for those who already were present during the debates on the Tavares Report and the Sargentini Report.

Von der Leyen’s speech was detailed but boring on economics, presenting this chapter as a kind of business plan. The single market is an opportunity, and the free movement must be restored as soon as possible, amended by a new strategy for the future of Schengen. Only after the industrial strategy, the President came to the question of climate, where everybody expected the announcement of the only concrete target. And it came indeed, by increasing the emission reduction target to at least 55 %. But don’t worry: this will create millions of extra jobs. (Those who think this is a new idea will find that in the 2010 speech the than EC president José Manuel Barroso envisaged 3 million green jobs by 2020). Mentioning that 37% of Next Generation EU spending will serve the Green Deal was an answer to those asking where the money for the necessary investment is coming from since last summer.

Messages in political speeches can be delivered simply by smart sequencing. Arriving to Brexit at the very end was a strong message to Boris Johnson. Affection for the British people was explicitly voiced, together with the concern that Downing Street’s behaviour is increasingly likely to lead to no deal, and to aggravate the loose-loose nature of Brexit.

On the other hand, a positive surprise was presented on the question of racial equality. Surely, this is a signal to those who might consider the Brussels bureaucracy inward looking. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, the President recognised that Europe also has a lot to do in this field. The fight against discrimination can become a meaningful one, by paying equal attention to immigrant communities as well as to segregated Roma minorities. Appointing the very first anti-racism coordinator in order to give this issue priority can be a game changer. An open question is however, why these matters were overlooked last year, when von der Leyen appointed commissioners for justice, rule of law and values, as well as democracy and demography (not forgetting the one that is supposed to promote the ‘European way of life’).

Since everything is under control, there is no need to invent further fora for discussion, the President may believe. The very lukewarm approach she displayed towards the conference on the Future of Europe (only one positive mentioning, linked to the Health Union) gave the impression of deliberately displeasing the Parliament, as if the speaker just flew in from Berlin. But there is time and room for improvement. Arguably, Barroso’s best SOTEU speech was delivered in 2012, when he found himself in competition with the president of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, to lead the reform of the EMU, as well as with Mario Draghi who caught the limelight and imagination by promising to do whatever it takes to save the euro. And the best SOTEU speech from Jean-Claude Juncker was in 2017 (when, among other post-Brexit initiatives, he also announced the European Labour Authority), following almost three years when the Commission’s main preoccupation was to make the work program slimmer and deliver as few initiatives as possible.

This first SOTEU speech by von der Leyen exposed her as still in transition from a CDU-minister to becoming a genuine EU leader. Hopefully, the best of von der Leyen as Commission President lies still ahead. In future speeches she might present less theatrical hand gestures and avoid saying “safe heaven” instead of “safe haven”.

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The 75th anniversary of the United Nations: the urgently needed reforms and their enemies https://progressivepost.eu/debates/next-global/the-75th-anniversary-of-the-united-nations-the-urgently-needed-reforms-and-their-enemies/%20 Tue, 08 Sep 2020 16:03:16 +0000 https://progressivepost.eu/?p=27251 The Covid-19 crisis has shown the dramatic discrepancy between the scale of the current transnational challenges (public health, climate change, security, financial stability, extreme poverty, sustainable development, terrorism…) and the weakness of global governance. This gap was visible even before the pandemic, but became much more evident in early 2020. Simply defending the past multilateral …

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The Covid-19 crisis has shown the dramatic discrepancy between the scale of the current transnational challenges (public health, climate change, security, financial stability, extreme poverty, sustainable development, terrorism…) and the weakness of global governance. This gap was visible even before the pandemic, but became much more evident in early 2020. Simply defending the past multilateral legacy is no longer a serious option for any progressive force. Instead, this unprecedented crisis should provide an opportunity for a large mobilisation of social and political actors, experts, states, and regional organisations for a ‘new multilateralism’.

A precondition for this ‘new multilateralism’ is realistic reform of the current institutional framework and governance. But progressive forces also need to be aware of the vast and diverse field of adversaries and obstacles that stand in the way of this political priority.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres

Firstly, nationalism is coming back in its worst forms – running counter to both natural and social science, which show the transnational characteristics of our common challenges, first and foremost of public health. The national civic feeling of common belonging that has been shown during the pandemic is a powerful resource not against multilateral cooperation but in favour of it. The nation is indeed compatible with multilateralism, provided that inward-looking, exclusive and aggressive nationalism is fought and defeated.

Secondly, the new multilateralist alliance that is in the making, notably the EU, and the dynamic UN reform programme of António Guterres, is jeopardised by the return of power politics among major players on every continent – notably the US, which most supported the UN’s foundation in 1945.

Thirdly, there is unprecedented confusion and disarray regarding the way out of the UN’s crisis. On the one hand, managerial and minimal adjustments are proposed by actors defending the status quo and power logics. On the other hand, a multitude of utopian projects are emerging, arguing in favour of a radically new UN, based on a new treaty. According to Article 108 of the UN Charter, however, amendments to this treaty are extremely difficult because they must be adopted by two thirds of the members of the UN General Assembly, and ratified by two thirds of the members of the United Nations including all five permanent members of the Security Council.

We must be very clear: the challenge of a courageous and effective UN reform can be neither about cosmetics, nor about dream worlds. The multiplication of wonderful designs and utopias for UN reform may be worse than useless, even counterproductive, because they emphasise the contrast between perfect ideal constructions and the current reality, and this could provoke resignation and defeat. Instead, what is needed, is a very large mobilisation and commitment for gradual, concrete and feasible reforms. Everybody must be aware that the current five permanent members of the UN Security Council are divided over almost everything, with a single exception: they are ready, with the sole possible exception of France, to veto any treaty reform .

The challenge of a courageous and effective UN reform can be neither about cosmetics, nor about dream worlds.

That is why progressive forces must rely on already existing dynamic trends which clearly go beyond a mere continuity with the past. Progressives must courageously address the UN’s efficiency gaps, and its current representation – and legitimacy – deficits, with new ways of parliamentary and citizen participation.

How could radical innovations be brought about successfully in the main policy fields – from public health (by reforming the currently weak World Health Organization) to security, peace, sustainable development, trade, human rights protection and gender balance? The critical factor will be the capacity of the reformers to detail not only what to do, but primarily how to improve the efficiency and legitimacy of UN agencies. The main objective must be reforms of the modes and levels of governance, and this will affect the UN institutions and their decision-making process.

One of the top priorities, which must be asserted by the EU, is an enhanced role for democratic regional organisations. These could function as a multilevel complement to the necessary central coordination of the UN. The EU would of course need to look for alliances and convergences in this endeavour.

One of the top priorities is an enhanced role for democratic regional organisations.

Unlike in 1945, regional organisations (such as the EU, ASEAN, African Union, and MERCOSUR) already exist today and represent consolidated actors on every continent. Regional organisations combine the decentralisation of the UN system with a certain containment of power-politics. They are also able to limit nationalism and disintegration, while offering a third way between Western-centric universalism and post-colonial relativism. Even without a UN Treaty reform, they can be recognised and supported by the UN system, through their inclusion in the decision-making process. The previous UN secretary-generals, Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Kofi Annan, started this profound change of the early unbalance in the UN between the regional and global level of the multilateral governance system. Their endeavours may eventually be finalised by the innovative leadership of the current secretary-general, António Guterres, supported by political resolve, competent expertise, and courageous measures to build a multi-layered post-hegemonic multilateralism.

Another urgently needed reform is for more and variously binding modes of governance. This could be consensually achieved along the lines of two already existing methods: (1) the ‘Open method of coordination’, a soft law method of governance, based on peer review, best practice, and the multilateral surveillance of member states’ practices by a central council (a method successfully applied by the International Labor Organization and by the EU’s 2000-2020 modernisation strategy); and (2) the ‘COP 21 review methods’, which ensure regular enhanced monitoring of the follow-up or multilateral arrangements on fighting climate change by participating member states. These reforms would address the scandalous deficit in multilateral policy implementation by many member states, while taking national diversities into consideration.

The EU is not an arrogant normative model. However, it is expected by many actors on all continents to play a driving role in reviving and strengthening the multilateral system. Both the internal practices and external policies of the EU, beyond both Eurocentrism and Euroscepticism, could play a key role. Why are there such expectations towards the EU? Because, as the most sophisticated regional multilateral entity, the destiny of the bloc itself is existentially linked to the future of the new multilevel multilateralism that is in the making. This new multilateralism will be an appealing blend of EU values and, in the words of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell, it will speak an innovative, realistic, “language of power”, when addressing a fiercely competing world.


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Making the UN more inclusive and democratic https://progressivepost.eu/debates/next-global/making-the-un-more-inclusive-and-democratic/%20 Tue, 08 Sep 2020 16:02:53 +0000 https://progressivepost.eu/?p=27230 The United Nations is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year (UN75). Secretary-General António Guterres has invited everybody to discuss and propose measures for “renewing and strengthening” the world organisation. Notably, a UN Parliamentary Assembly and a World Citizens’ Initiative could be measures that increase its democratic base. Many papers and debates around UN75 focus on …

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The United Nations is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year (UN75). Secretary-General António Guterres has invited everybody to discuss and propose measures for “renewing and strengthening” the world organisation. Notably, a UN Parliamentary Assembly and a World Citizens’ Initiative could be measures that increase its democratic base.

Many papers and debates around UN75 focus on reform of the existing UN institutions: the role and power of the Secretary-General, the efficiency of the General Assembly, and above all the reform of the Security Council. All of this is important, but it is not enough. Business as usual does not reflect the many changes since the creation of the UN in 1948, nor does it reflect today’s global challenges. UN reform needs fresh ideas and a new footing.

A more democratic UN with a new UN Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA)


The UN Charter begins with the promising words “We the peoples”. However, no clause can be found in the document that specifies a means by which ordinary people can play a role in the organisation’s deliberations and decision-making.

The bodies of the UN are occupied by officials who are appointed by the executive branches of national governments. Given the many challenges with direct effect for the citizens, this is no longer sufficient. The intergovernmental order has failed again and again because of egoistic interests and veto positions. Global problems need global politics, and global goods need global institutions.

Global problems need global politics and global goods need global institutions.

A United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA) would, for the first time, give elected representatives a formal role in global affairs. The proposal has been around since the 1920s, when the League of Nations was set up. As an own body, the UNPA would directly represent the world’s citizens and not national governments.

An UNPA could be established without changing the UN Charter. It could be created with a decision of the UN General Assembly under Article 22 of the Charter, as happened years ago with the establishment of the Human Rights Council.

The UN would evolve from what many believe to be a generally inefficient talking shop into a viable and vibrant democratic body. Initially, states could choose whether their UNPA members would come from national parliaments, reflecting their political spectrum and gender equality, or whether they would be directly elected. Starting as a largely consultative body, the UNPA would have the right of information on all UN matters and action, the right to scrutinise the budget and spending, and it would of course serve as a platform to discuss relevant global problems and make proposals. The UNPA could create committees – for example, a committee on Human Rights, Peace and Security, which would monitor the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals or inquire about tax havens and money laundering. The assembly would act as an independent watchdog of the UN system, and as a democratic reflection of world public opinion.

Alternatively, the UNPA could be created through a new international treaty. To enter into force, the treaty would have to be ratified by a certain number of countries across the continents. Rights and functions with regard to the UN would be confirmed through a cooperation agreement adopted by the UN General Assembly.

The Appeal for a UN Parliamentary Assembly is now supported by numerous NGOs, more than 1,500 parliamentarians, a number of national parliaments, the European Parliament and the Pan-African Parliament.

A World Citizens’ Initiative (WCI)


Citizens should have a voice in the UN. In a globalised and connected world, many problems have a direct effect on people everywhere on the planet.

Many studies and surveys prove that humans have similar feelings, aspirations and expectations: living in peace, having a healthy environment or a decent job. These basic needs cannot be expressed on the global stage because they are blocked and fragmented by other interests and power games.

A World Citizens’ Initiative would be a dynamic new instrument to put proposals from citizens of all continents and many countries on the agendas of the UN General Assembly and the Security Council. The experience of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) and lessons learned from it could be the starting point for debate.

The WCI would have an organising committee that is geographically representative. This committee would register citizens’ initiatives and open the procedure for collection of support. Proposals would only be eligible if they are in line with the purposes of the UN as laid out in Article 1 of the UN Charter.

A WCI would qualify within 18 months after registration if it has collected a certain quorum of signatures in representative parts of the world. Robust digital tools could facilitate the collection of support. Verification would be undertaken based on random samples, residency information and date of birth.

A successful WCI would be automatically placed on the agenda of the General Assembly (UNGA) or, depending on the proposal, on the agenda of the Security Council (UNSC). It would oblige the UNGA or the UNSC to draft a resolution in response, and to vote on this resolution. States would be required to publish an explanation of the vote, whether they vote in favour of the resolution or not. This would create transparency for world public opinion and for global citizens.

Global politics could start a more citizens-centred agenda and human face and would enormously improve the credibility of the UN helping to guarantee its survival.

A World Citizens’ Initiative in a reformed UN system could be created without changing the UN Charter. Like an UNPA, a WCI could be established under Article 22 by a vote of the General Assembly. Global politics could then start a more citizen-centred agenda and would have a human face. This would improve the credibility of the UN enormously, helping to guarantee its survival.


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Strengthening the EU’s role in the UN Security Council today https://progressivepost.eu/debates/next-global/strengthening-the-eus-role-in-the-un-security-council-today/%20 Tue, 08 Sep 2020 16:02:26 +0000 https://progressivepost.eu/?p=27242 One of the hallmarks of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy is constructive and effective multilateralism. The United Nations serves as one of the principal platforms of EU foreign policy, including the protection of the EU’s values, fundamental interests, security, independence, and integrity. The EU’s performance, visibility and effectiveness on the world stage could …

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One of the hallmarks of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy is constructive and effective multilateralism. The United Nations serves as one of the principal platforms of EU foreign policy, including the protection of the EU’s values, fundamental interests, security, independence, and integrity. The EU’s performance, visibility and effectiveness on the world stage could be much improved by allocating a permanent seat on the Security Council (UNSC) to the EU in its own right, alongside four other regional organisations. Obviously, such reform will not materialise in one big bang and should most likely result from a number of incremental steps taken over several years.

The reform of the United Nations by expanding the membership of the Security Council has reached stalemate. On several occasions the member states of the United Nations have been close to an agreement which would have involved adding both a number of permanent and non-permanent members divided among the major regional areas of the world. In 2005, Kofi Annan tabled two options: one model would have seen six new permanent seats and three elected/non-renewable seats added, while the interesting second model would have added eight semi-permanent seats with a four-year renewable term and one non-permanent/elected seat. Both models would lead to a total of 24 seats on the Security Council. As a result of pushback from the medium powers in particular (like Indonesia, Pakistan, Italy and Mexico), an agreement floundered in 2005. In the following years, what looked like almost a consensus faded away.

In retrospect, one might argue that these proposals essentially aimed at reforming the 20th century United Nations, which is very much based upon the Westphalian interstate order and fails to take into account the increased role of international organisations, regional institutions, civil society and business in the contemporary world.

In the 21st century, the challenge is to make a leap forward, similar to that taken by the founders of the United Nations in 1945 by moving away from the suffocating unanimity rule of the League of Nations. In our era, this could best be done by allocating a role to the principal new regional organisations, in addition to the current five permanent members (China, the US, Russia, France and the UK) plus Brazil, India and Japan as (semi-)permanent members. 

Qualifying regional organisations would include the African Union, the European Union, the Organization of American States, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and ASEAN. Although their level of cooperation and integration varies, they are all firmly established organisations capable of making a contribution to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the United Nations. Within the specific regional organisations, each should be free to decide whether to vest the Security Council seat with the constituent principal organs of the organisation concerned, or to opt for a rotating presidency of member states supported by the secretariat of the organisation – which may bring some desirable permanency. In the case of the EU, the European Commission or alternatively the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy could represent the bloc.

Obviously, this change would require amending the UN Charter, particularly Articles 4 (UN membership) and 23 (composition of the Security Council). 

An expanded Security Council of 25 members, composed of the current 10 elected members plus two additional elected members (12 in total), the current five permanent members (P5) plus Brazil, India and Japan (8 in total) and representatives of five regional organisations (5 in total), would be instrumental in enhancing the representativeness and legitimacy of the Security Council as the world’s most important political organ in the field of peace and security.

Effectiveness and efficiency could be protected and effectuated by not expanding the number of veto-holding powers beyond the current P5 and by incrementally qualifying their veto right by applying more strictly the rule that a party to the dispute shall abstain from voting, by requiring at least a double veto in case of decision-making on serious international crimes (the French-Mexican proposal), and – in due course – by applying further restrictions such as ‘one veto is no veto’.


EXPANDED SECURITY COUNCIL READY FOR 21ST CENTURY

Regional areaNumber of statesCurrent P5Proposed new permanent seatsProposed two-year elected seatsTotal
Africa5401.5 (AU and 0.5 OIC)45.5
Asia and Pacific5313.5 (India, Japan, ASEAN, 0.5 OIC)37.5
Europe, North America and Oceania5241 (EU)27
Latin America and Caribbean3402 (Brazil, OAS)35
Total193581225

Incremental steps to advance the role of the EU in the Security Council


Spyros Blavoukos and Dimitris Bourantonis observe that “for most parts of the reform debate, a strengthening of the EU presence in the UNSC has been monolithically associated with a single EU seat or an additional EU seat for an EU Member State, proposals still not feasible politically 20 years after they were first launched in the early 1990s”. Meanwhile, bit by bit – indeed, slowly rather than expeditiously – the EU’s performance and representation on the Security Council has taken shape. The Maastricht Treaty already envisaged a coordination of EU policies with its Member States serving on the Security Council. The Lisbon Treaty added the High Representative to this.

Article 34 of the Lisbon Treaty provides “When the Union has defined a position on a subject which is on the United Nations Security Council agenda, those Member States which sit on the Security Council shall request the High Representative be invited to present the Union’s position.” Occasionally, EU Member States are strongly represented on the UN Security Council, as in 2018 when – in addition to France and the UK – Poland, Sweden and the Netherlands served on the Council. After Brexit in 2020, such numbers will probably no longer be achievable. 

In this regard, it is important to note that the EU’s presence within the UN has improved considerably in recent years. First of all, through the Lisbon Reform Treaty, the EU itself gained legal personality. Secondly, a few years ago and after a painstaking process, the General Assembly (UNGA) agreed to vest the EU with observer status in the General Assembly. Obviously, much can still be improved but this depends on more coordination and, if possible, concerted action by the EU itself and its Member States.

Thomas Mayr-Harting, former Head of the EU Delegation to the UN in New York, reports that the EU takes the floor at the Security Council approximately 30-35 times per year, both on actual peace and security conflicts (Middle East, Afghanistan, Africa, Iran) and in thematic debates on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the role of women in peace and security, and strengthening peacekeeping operations. One of the few examples in which the EU Ambassador really spoke on behalf of the High Representative was related to the Iran Nuclear Deal.

The EU Treaty provisions remain mostly in the realm of coordination. While coordination is certainly important, it is also very much only the start of enhancing the EU position in the Security Council and its affairs. More challenging, and no doubt more difficult to achieve, is coherence in terms of adopting meaningful common positions on policy issues of substance, not just the lowest and often vague common denominator.

Such EU concertation could be fostered by (in ascending order):

  • coordination among EU Member States serving as a member on the Security Council, including France (as the only remaining permanent member) and the elected members;
  • overall coordination among EU states on issues before the Security Council;
  • coordination among EU Member States serving on the Security Council and the principal EU institutions (the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council with and through the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy) on issues before the Security Council;
  • seeking to arrive at common positions on issues before the Security Council;
  • seeking to arrive not only at common positions but also at a truly ‘European’ position on issues before the Security Council;
  • presenting and voicing such ‘European’ positions on the Security Council itself through the High Representative or the UN Delegation Ambassador as his representative.

The 21st century is no longer only a world of states. Next to national states and global governance, we are witnessing an increasingly multilateral regionalism. It is timely no longer to seek to expand the Security Council with national states but rather with the representation of regional institutions. Obviously, as the most advanced regional organisation, the European Union should be one of these.

Apart from the big reform issue of a seat for the EU on the Security Council alongside four other regional organisations, the EU’s performance, visibility and effectiveness on the world stage, could be much improved by fostering a number of small incremental steps taken over a period of a number of years. These should be aimed at action from strengthening coordination (through seeking to achieve common European positions on issues before the Security Council) to voicing such European positions on the Security Council itself through the European Commission and the EU High Representative or the EU Ambassador as his representative. This would not only strengthen the EU’s role in today’s world but the Security Council as well.


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Regional organisations and UN reform: towards Multilateralism 2.0 https://progressivepost.eu/debates/next-global/regional-organisations-and-un-reform-towards-multilateralism-2-0/%20 Tue, 08 Sep 2020 16:01:40 +0000 https://progressivepost.eu/?p=27238 Chapter VIII of the UN Charter foresees a role for regional arrangements in global governance of security, especially the peaceful settlement of disputes. The Charter though also foresees a clear hierarchy between the global and the regional levels: any enforcement action that involves a regional organisation can only be organised under the authorisation of the …

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Chapter VIII of the UN Charter foresees a role for regional arrangements in global governance of security, especially the peaceful settlement of disputes. The Charter though also foresees a clear hierarchy between the global and the regional levels: any enforcement action that involves a regional organisation can only be organised under the authorisation of the UN Security Council. The proposal here advanced however is to engage in a process of networking the UN with regional organisation as a stepping-stone to Multilateralism 2.0.

Since the time when the UN Charter was drafted, the world has become more and more regionalised, and today a considerable number of regional and sub-regional organisations are active around the world, making important contributions to the stability and prosperity of their members. But these regional organisation (RO) are not necessarily what the drafters of Chapter VIII had in mind. For many regional organisations, the main mandate is not peace and security, but trade and economic cooperation. Nevertheless, some ROs such as the EU or the African Union have in common with the UN the fact that they are intergovernmental organisations with some ambitions in the area of peace and security.

There have been several attempts to connect the global scope of the UN with the endeavours of regional organisation. But political reality has always been a spoiler for any form of co-operation or division of labour. Only since the end of the cold war has there been room for a re-vitalisation of Chapter VIII. For some, Chapter VIII is to be regarded as an opportunity to reform the UN without changing the Charter, with the prospect that it could make the UN more inclusive and might help in raising the capacities and resources of the UN.

Meanwhile, other developments have opened new possibilities for enhanced collaboration between the UN and regional organisations. The first of these developments is the changing nature of security threats. The initial ambition of the UN was clear: avoiding or stopping armed conflicts between states. Today however, that ambition is much wider and includes different aspects of human security such as fighting climate change or pandemics. This opens the door for enhanced collaboration and coordination.

The initial ambition of the UN was avoiding or stopping armed conflicts. Today however, it is much wider and includes fighting climate change or pandemics.

The second development is the changing nature of governance. From a concept guided by the principles of sovereignty and subsidiarity, governance has evolved to a system of networked actors that have various statehood properties. According to Anne-Marie Slaughter, the future is a “network mindset” that replaces the old “chessboard” emphasis on states, sovereignty, coercion, and self-interest, with the web’s orientation toward connections, relationships, sharing, and engagement.

The added value of the regional organisations to global governance is straightforward. On the one hand, there is the cultural affinity, shared history and deep ties that make regional organisations better placed than the UN to grasp local situations on the condition that there is a legitimation and that impartiality is preserved. On the other hand, there is a possibility of burden-sharing. The enduring scarcity of resources for UN activities (such as peacekeeping) could be remedied by cooperation with regional organisations. But this does not mean that regional organisations are to be regarded as entities that are there to serve the UN. They are also autonomous actors with their own agenda, and in that sense, they have to be regarded as equal to the UN. 

Talking and walking the partnership


In an attempt to forge partnerships between ROs and the UN, the secretary-general Kofi Annan called in April 2003 for the UN and regional organisations to “redouble their efforts” to ensure international peace and security. But the gist of this and other messages has mostly been that regional organisations should work for and in the UN and that it should be clear that regional organisations can only act under a mandate by the Security Council – not exactly a partnership on equal footing. This process has culminated in the adoption of Resolution 1631 (2005), which clearly states that it is the Security Council that invites regional organisations to place their capacities in the framework of the UN.

Most attempts, however, at forging partnerships between the two entities, at first glance, look more like streamlining the presence of ROs within the UN structure than a real networking. If the latter is to be achieved, then the UN needs to be prepared to go further than consultation and looking at how regional organisations implement Security Council decisions.

The ambitions re-visited


When the UN was set up in 1945 it had 51 members. Today there are 191 members, and the security threats are different (for example, climate change, pandemics, scarcity of resources, and biodiversity). The growing awareness of the threats due to the current weaknesses of multilateralism, together with the opportunities related to the regionalisation and networking of the world, are creating the political possibility for change. The key issue in reforming the UN is that it has to find a way to create a balance between the UN’s responsibilities and its representation of people on our planet. Such a complex balance cannot be found in reform proposals that are merely based upon nations as the sole building blocks of multilateralism. States have to adjust to a world where other units of governance, from the vey local to the global level, will have statehood properties. This creates a complex level of governance called multi-level networked governance. Two of the key questions are what should be tackled at the global level and what should be left to regional organisations; and what kind of interactions are needed between the actors.

States have to adjust to a world where other units of governance, from the very local to the global level, will have statehood properties.

A more structured relationship between the UN and regional and other intergovernmental organisations needs to be developed, which guarantees greater coordination and cooperation in both policy and action. It is time to re-think the relationship between the UN and the ROs, both inside and outside the canvas of Chapter VIII, and to work towards a new networked partnership based upon equality.

Advocating the role of regional organisations in the UN is not new, but a new start is needed based upon a clear conception of the added value of the process to the Security Council, to the relevant UN departments, to the Ros, and to the member states. 

The proposal here advanced is to engage in a process of networking the UN with ROs as a stepping stone to Multilateralism 2.0. This process should be guided by a series of principles and a clear vision of why this networked partnership is necessary. It should also be guided by a set of operational steps to realise the proposal 

Principles


Principle 1. The UN and ROs should play complementary roles in facing all global challenges including international peace and security.

Principle 2. Although for traditional peace and security issues, the primacy of the Security Council needs to be preserved at all times, the coordination and cooperation between the UN and the ROs  can be organised without such a hierarchical relationship for all other global issues.

Principle 3. Pragmatism is key. A new partnership should be built on the comparative strengths of each organisation. Geographical proximity and close historical, economic and cultural ties amongst members of regional organisations lead to a potentially better understanding of the root causes of regional conflicts and thus to developing peaceful solutions to them. Similarly, regional organisations are perhaps best placed to operationalise policies to deal with global problems.

Vision of the added value 


The raison d’être of such a networked interaction could be to create:

  1. a forum of trust-building between the different regional organisations and the UN at the highest level in all its agencies. In some cases, the UN can also provide legitimation to interventions from ROs;
  2. a mechanism of learning transfer from one case to another. Regional organisations can provide the UN and other ROs with insights from on the ground;
  • a knowledge hub on regional capacities. While some ROs can deliver military capacity to the UN, there should be increased collaboration between the United Nations and regional organisations in order to maximise efficiency of cooperation and coordination in all domains of the UN, in particular through exchange of information, and sharing experience and best practices.

Strengthening the relationship between the UN and regional organisations should be done in the spirit of a networked governance structure and geared towards all human security problems.

The cooperation between the UN and regional organisations should contribute to enlarging the UN from an intergovernmental organisation to an open organisation where all relevant actors for peace and security can meet. This not to say that the Security Council needs to be transformed as from tomorrow. But expanding it into a hybrid platform with a mixed membership is perhaps feasible: partly countries, partly regional organisations.

A final word on how to implement such a reform process is that it can only be done by an actor that operates within the UN and that is a power itself outside the UN. Of all the ROs operating today, only the EU seems to have the capacity and the capability of driving the process. But does the EU, and thus also its Member States, want to use soft power to be a change agent in the UN? In this context it is good to remember that the UN and the EU both have their roots in the thinking about a future governance structure after the second world war. And as Winston Churchill famously said: “There is no reason why a regional organisation of Europe should in any way be in conflict with the world organisation of the United Nations. On the contrary, I believe that the larger synthesis will only survive if it is founded upon coherent natural groupings.”


La entrada Regional organisations and UN reform: towards Multilateralism 2.0 aparece primero en The Progressive Post.

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