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Briefing on the European Union at the United Nations

The Delegation of Freie Universität Berlin was welcomed by Mr Stephan Marquardt, Legal Adviser of the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to the United Nations. First of all, he explained that as an effect of the Lisbon Treaty, there had been substantial changes in the arrangements for external representation of the European Union, and that the European Community has been replaced and succeeded by the European Union.

With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009, considerable changes in the external representation of the European Union have been introduced: The external representation of the EU is now incumbent on the newly created High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the EU (HR), a position currently held by Ms Catherine Ashton, and by the European Commission; the rotating presidency of the Council in principle no longer has the role of representing the EU externally. The High Representative is appointed for 5 years. Ms Ashton is at the same time the Vice-President of the Commission regarding external relations. Regarding the EU's common foreign and security policy, the HR will be assisted by a ‘European External Action Service’, a new entity which will combine the departments for external relations of the European Commission and the Secretariat of the Council. This new entity will also comprise all EU Delegations in third countries and at international organisations (the former Commission Delegations), which will also act under the authority of the HR.

The European Union has now succeeded the European Community and will exercise all rights and obligations of the European Community at the United Nations, including its observer status at the United Nations General Assembly (GA), which it had since 1974. This constitutes a problem, in so far as observers may only speak after all UN Member States have spoken. As a result of this procedural obstacle to an effective EU participation in the UNGA, the EU is now confronted with the challenge of having the changes in its arrangements for external representation acknowledged by the UN system and in particular by the UNGA, in order to be granted the right to speak early in debates notwithstanding its status as observer.

Asked whether he sees such a change likely in the near future, Mr Marquardt underlined that it was essential for the EU’s external image that it speaks with one voice and that this was also in the interest of the UN. This is the case in 90% of the discussed issues, while certain sensitive topics such as the Middle East conflict sometimes remain controversial among the 27 EU Member States, which do not always achieve a common position.

As a negotiation strategy for the National Model United Nations (NMUN) Conference 2010 Mr Marquardt advised us to try and gather all EU Member States during the informal NMUN sessions in order to work on a common position. He added that during real negotiations, even in cases of disagreement among EU Member States on certain issues, they would nonetheless endeavour to revert to previously agreed-upon language to be able to present a common negotiating position.

Finally, on the issue of the reform of the UN Security Council (UNSC), Mr Marquardt explained that there was no common EU position, notably due to the particular position of France and the United Kingdom as permanent UNSC members, and on account of the fact that other EU Member States have diverging positions. For his enlightening briefing, we kindly thank Mr Marquardt.

Valerie Ross