Ashton to obtain speaking rights at UN


European Council and Commission representatives yesterday (24 August) confirmed reports that the United Nations is to grant the EU the right to speak at the body's General Assembly ahead of its 64th session, which starts on 15 September in New York.

Although the EU is the biggest donor in flood-devastated Pakistan (EURACTIV 19/08/10), High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton was recently prevented from taking the floor at a special UN meeting on aid to the country. The Union's message was delivered by Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere, as Belgium is the current holder of the Union's rotating presidency.

"It's a protocol issue. It hasn't been sorted out yet, we don't know exactly what we are going to receive and we don't know when we are going to receive it. We hope it is going to be in the next few days," a source in the European Council, presided over by Herman Van Rompuy, told EURACTIV.

The issue of the Union's speaking rights was raised by Catherine Ashton in a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and she is still waiting for a response, but no more can be said at this stage, the source said.

Asked by EURACTIV if in the absence of such rights EU representatives could borrow the right to speak from member states, the Council representative said this was up to the UN to decide, before adding that there had been no such precedent so far. 

Thus far, the EU has only had observer status at the UN. With the Lisbon Treaty, however, and the election of a permanent Council president and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the EU's position at the UN appears to urgently require an upgrade.

According to Polish daily Rzeczpospolita, EU members France and the UK, who would hate to lose their influence in the UN Security Council, were initially reluctant to accept the idea. Ultimately, they have agreed to a compromise under which the head of EU diplomacy, Catherine Ashton, will have the right to speak on the EU's behalf in the General Assembly but not in the Security Council.

Apparently, the EU's request is also compelling other organisations, such as the Arab League, the African Union and ASEAN, to seek equal status. It is still unclear what response these organisations will receive, as the UN is unwilling to open a Pandora's box of new speaking rights.

The Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force on 1 December 2009, introduces the new 'top jobs' of a high-profile president to chair EU summit meetings for a two-and-a-half year term and a High Representative for Foreign Affairs, who will also be a vice-president of the European Commission.

Last November, EU heads of state and government unanimously backed Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy as the first permanent EU president and Trade Commissioner Baroness Catherine Ashton as High Representative for Foreign Affairs (EURACTIV 20/11/09). 

The Lisbon Treaty also equips the European Union with a 'European External Action Service' (EEAS): a diplomatic corps with the objective of developing a genuinely European foreign policy.

Last July, EU foreign ministers gave their final approval to the European External Action Service (EEAS), paving the way for the diplomatic corps "to come into being" by December 2010 (EURACTIV 27/07/10).

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