Michael Spindelegger, Foreign Minister of Austria, delivered a luncheon seminar hosted by LISD on Thursday, November 12, titled "The EU and the UN Security Council," at Prospect House on the Princeton campus.
With Austria the current president of the United Nations Security Council, Spindelegger began his address by noting that 20 years ago the Berlin Wall fell and the world changed forever - yet two years after the Wall fell, war had already returned to Europe in the form of the Balkans tragedy in the 1990s. “The hope for the rapid emergence of a ‘new world order’ expressed by the first President Bush at the time turned out to be an illusion,” he said.
The European Union was forced to make radical adjustments to remain relevant. According to the foreign minister, “the EU had to turn itself into the vehicle for the reunification of the European continent,” and was successful in some instances, such as “assisting in the peaceful transformations of the former Warsaw Pact states into solid democracies and functioning market economies.” However, Spindelegger noted, there are still many projects that must be completed.
He cautioned that this is not to say that the EU has not come a long way. “Hardly a day passes without the EU adopting declarations and positions on ongoing developments,” he said. “The EU also plays a significant role in crisis management as shown in the Balkans or in containing the Georgian crisis of 2008.” Still, Spindelegger pointed out, “in spite of all of these accomplishments there is still the widespread notion - both in Europe and with our international partners - that the EU is ‘punching below its weight’.”
The foreign minister explained that main objective of the new foreign policy framework is to increase the coherence of all EU activities: foreign policy, security and defense, trade, development cooperation, energy security, climate change, “neighborhood” policy and EU enlargement policy, he said.
“The creation of the post of a President of the European and the enhancement of the role of the High Representative for foreign and security policy is a major institutional innovation in the EU’s foreign policy making machinery,” Spindelegger asserted. The decision for who will assume the roles in these two positions will be made in late November as part of the new Lisbon Treaty.
Spindelegger also emphasized the role of multilateral diplomacy and the role of the UN in world politics. As part of the European security strategy, adopted in 2003, the EU expressed its firm commitment to closely cooperate with the UN, with a view to enhancing the global system of collective security. “The EU rightly considers [itself] a principal partner of the United Nations in UN peacekeeping, providing more than 40 percent of the UN’s regular and peacekeeping budget and approximately 12 percent of the deployed personnel,” he said.
Spindelegger also spoke of Austria’s place in the new Lisbon Treaty. One of the aims of the treaty is that “the new High Representative shall give European positions more weight by presenting them directly in the Security Council,” he said. “Since these changes take effect during Austria’s two year tenure as a non-permanent member of the Council, Austria will be fully committed to their swift implementation.”
The foreign minister also expressed hopes that under the leadership of President Barack Obama, “there is a real chance to turn the United Nations once again into what was originally envisaged in the [UN] Charter: not just a forum of discussion but a place for action,” he said, but “the central focal point of the efforts of the international community to find common solutions to common challenges.”
During his address Spindelegger stressed the importance of the international community in strengthening the rule of law, and contributing to an international rules-based system. “The protection of civilians, and especially of women and children, in situations of armed conflict... constitutes a priority for Austria,” he said. The nature of conflicts he noted have changed globally, in such diverse places as Darfur, Pakistan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the tragic result that “today, the civilian population pays the price of war.”
In fact, Spindelegger said, this topic was the focus during the presidency of the Security Council this month, and a new resolution was adopted. “Resolution 1894 constitutes an important step forward in addressing the major problems the United Nations is currently facing in its efforts to ensure an effective protection of civilians in situations of armed conflict.”
The foreign minister concluded his speech, stating, “the world today faces unprecedented challenges that can only be addressed through an effectively functioning, rules based multilateral system. The EU, which following centuries of war and distrust has succeeded in turning our continent into a space of genuine cooperation, and partnership is strongly committed to this objective. I am convinced that today’s world needs a strong Europe to help build a better and more secure future for our children.”