EU finds a clearer voice in the UN

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Catherine Ashton, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, will at last have the right to speak at the United Nations General Assembly, following a vote held yesterday (3 May).

A vote in the 192-nation General Assembly saw 180 countries come out in favour of granting the EU 'super observer' status, which does not give the bloc voting rights but will allow the High Representative to speak on behalf of the European Union.

No country voted against and only Zimbabwe and Syria abstained. The remaining 10 were not present at the vote.

Despite boasting new institutions introduced by the Lisbon Treaty (see 'Background'), the EU has thus far only been able to speak in the UN General Assembly through the ambassador of the country holding the bloc's rotating presidency.

An attempt last year to give Ashton speaking rights in the UN failed due to opposition from developing countries who feared the EU would be granted privileges that their regional organisations do not have.

Reportedly, the breakthrough came following heavy lobbying by the EU, the price of which means that other regional groups such as the Arab League, the African Union or the Caribbean Community are now likely to seek and will probably obtain similar status.

Addressing the General Assembly after the vote, Ashton said the resolution will enable EU representatives to promote the bloc's positions with a "clearer voice".

"I believe in the collaboration between the European Union and the United Nations," she said, "and I have made it part of my remit to ensure that the European Union works as closely as possible with the United Nations as we seek to rise to the challenges that we face across the world," Ashton said, quoted by AP.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy welcomed the vote, which according to him had conferred recognition on the EU as a global actor at the United Nations.

With this resolution, the General Assembly acknowledges that since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, the European Commission and the EU Delegations have represented the Union externally in accordance with the Treaties, Van Rompuy stated.

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 is also 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.

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.

After protracted wrangling between EU institutions, the EEAS became operational on 1 December 2010, the day of the first anniversary of the Lisbon Treaty.

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