EU wins status upgrade at UN after long struggle

European Union granted similar status to Vatican and Palestinian Authority, boosting its role and profile in UN activities.

May 4, 2011 11:58
2 minute read.
Catherine Ashton

Catherine Ashton (R) 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud)

UNITED NATIONS - The UN General Assembly upgraded the status of the European Union on Tuesday, bringing an end to Brussels' long struggle to formally boost its role and profile in the activities of the United Nations.

The 192-nation assembly adopted a resolution granting the EU status similar to that of the Vatican and Palestinian Authority with 180 votes in favor and none against. Zimbabwe and Syria abstained, while 10 countries did not vote.

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The push for the largely symbolic status change was part of Brussels' efforts to boost its role on the world stage in line with its 2007 Lisbon Treaty. The EU will now be able to address the assembly through its permanent officials rather than the ambassador of the country holding its rotating presidency.

After the vote, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton exercised Brussels' newly acquired speaking rights, telling the assembly that "what you will hear is a clearer voice to the United Nations" from the world's largest trading bloc of 27 nations with around a half a billion people across Europe.

The EU's upgraded status will also ensure that it is much higher up on the General Assembly speakers' lists at the annual gathering of world leaders in September and during other high-level meetings of UN member states.

It was the second time the assembly took up the issue. In September 2010, the EU pushed for a vote to amend its status, but was forced to withdraw its draft resolution after the Caribbean regional group CARICOM persuaded member states to delay action.

Afterwards, EU member states quietly lobbied CARICOM and members of other regional organizations, such as the African Union, to convince them that the European bloc will not be getting privileges that other regional groups are denied.

Zimbabwe proposed an amendment that would have denied the EU the right to reply to statements made by UN member states, but that proposal was resoundingly defeated, receiving a mere six votes in favor and 142 against.

Ashton made clear that the EU was not seeking the status of a full UN member state.

Despite its desire to have a unified foreign policy, the EU has found itself divided on some key UN issues, such as how to respond to Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia or whether to endorse the Goldstone Report.

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