European Union External Action

Multilateral relations

10/09/2021 - 12:17
Policy - Activity

In today’s world marked by major geopolitical and economic power shifts, multilateralism is still the most effective means to govern global relations in a way that benefits all. The EU stands committed to a renewed multilateralism fit for the 21st century.

Growing global challenges, such as COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, conflicts and extreme poverty in many parts of the world, call for holistic solutions that can only come about through more effective multilateral governance and rules-based international cooperation. Multilateralism must be effective, fair and deliver results that serve both EU and global interests and values.


EU agenda for a renewed multilateralism

he European Union's commitment to effective multilateralism, with the United Nations at its core, is a central element of the EU’s external policy. To respond successfully to global crises, threats and challenges, the international community needs an efficient multilateral system, founded on universal rules and values.

“Multilateralism matters because it works. But we cannot be ‘multilateralists' alone. At a time of growing scepticism, we must demonstrate the benefit and relevance of the multilateral system.”

-High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy/Vice-President for a Stronger Europe in the World, Josep Borrell.

On 17 February 2021, the EU High Representative Josep Borrell and the European Commission put forward a new strategy to strengthen the EU's contribution to rules-based multilateralism. The Joint Communication sets out the EU's expectations of and ambitions for the multilateral system. It proposes to make use of the full range of tools at the EU's disposal, including its extensive political, diplomatic and financial support, to promote global peace and security, defend human rights and international law, and to promote multilateral responses to global challenges.

“We will build stronger, more diverse and inclusive partnerships to lead its modernisation and shape global responses to the challenges of the 21st century, some of which threaten the very existence of humanity.”

-HR/VP Josep Borrell

In recent years, the EU has intensified its engagement as a global player and is translating multilateralism into action, in line with the Council Conclusions on EU action to strengthen rules-based multilateralism. The EU and its Member States will continue to harness their convening power in support of effective multilateralism by bringing global actors together towards common solutions and will advance strategic priorities and interests multilaterally, in order to ensure a safer and more stable world and a sustainable, inclusive global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The EU and the UN are the world’s leading proponents and defenders of the multilateral and rules-based global governance system. Cooperation takes place across a broad range of areas: human rights, sustainable development, climate change, digital, peace building, crisis management, disarmament and non-proliferation, humanitarian assistance, fighting corruption and crime, advancing global health security, managing migratory flows and labour issues. Out of 17 EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions and operations, 13 are deployed alongside UN missions in the Sahel, the Central African Republic, Libya, and the Western Balkans, supporting or directly contributing to the implementation of the UN mandates.

EU financial support to the UN

In the last ten years, the European Commission alone committed EUR 20 billion to the UN and its agencies, funds and programmes. Collectively, the EU and its Member States are the largest financial contributor to the UN system, providing about a quarter of all the voluntary contributions to UN funds and programmes. The Member States of the EU together contribute almost a quarter of the UN’s regular budget and a quarter of its peacekeeping budget, and account for more than half of all contributions to the UN Peacebuilding Fund.

Factsheet EU-UN: Global Partners (June 2021)

The EU adopts annual priorities for its relations with the UN and for the UN General Assembly. These make clear that the EU is committed to strengthening the United Nations and to playing an active role at the UN in all relevant areas.

This year the EU’s priorities at the UN during the 76th session of the UN General Assembly (September 2021 –September 2022) are:

  • A United Nations fit for the 21st century
  • Building back better
  • Making the world safer
  • Winning the race against climate change and restoring our relationship with nature
  • Shaping the global digital agenda
  • A stronger EU-UN partnership

EU participation at the United Nations

Since 2011, the EU is an observer with enhanced status at the UN General Assembly. This allows the EU to present common positions, make interventions, present proposals and participate in the general debate each September. The EU has no vote but is party to more than 50 UN multilateral agreements and conventions as the only non-State participant. It has obtained a special “full participant” status in a number of important UN conferences, as for example, the UN Conference on Financing for Development or the UN Conference on Women.

Article 34 of the Lisbon Treaty stipulates that EU members at the UN Security Council must act in concert and foster the interests of the EU. The presence of EU Member States at the UN Security Council and effective coordination among them as well as with other partners contributes to the promotion of EU interests. Every year, the EU High Representative /Vice-President briefs the UN Security Council on the EU’s contribution to global peace and security.

UN reform and increased efficiency

The EU supports the effective implementation of the UN reforms and plays an active role in the follow-up process on “Our Common Agenda” launched in line with the Political Declaration on the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the UN. To remain legitimate, the UN must be equipped to tackle increasingly complex global challenges and respond to the growing demands of citizens in terms of transparency, accountability, inclusiveness and effective delivery.

The EU has provided €30 million for the UN’s 2030 Agenda Fund to support the Development System reform and will pay €27 million to the UN Special Purpose Trust Fund over three years.

The EU has delegations accredited to the UN in Geneva, New York, Paris, Rome and Vienna.

To change the multilateral landscape, we need a new generation of partnerships. The EU will continue to build new alliances with third countries, reinforce cooperation with multilateral and regional organisations, as well as other stakeholders, especially those with whom it shares democratic values and, with others, it will seek a common ground issue by issue. It will support partner countries in engaging more effectively in the multilateral system and ensure systematic follow-up of bilateral commitments with partners to advance multilateral objectives.

The EU works very closely with and in other international organisations and entities, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the World Trade Organisation, the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

To promote international peace, human rights and development, the EU works closely with Geneva based organisations to better tackle migration (IOM), to promote decent work for all (ILO) and public health worldwide (WHO), and to support a multilateral approach to security, disarmament and non-proliferation.

Finally, the EU seeks closer cooperation with other regional and multinational organisations such as the African Union, the Organisation of the African, Caribbean and Pacific States, the Association of South-East Asian Nations or the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States to address common challenges and to work together at the international level. For example, the EU works very closely with the AU and the UN – trilateral cooperation –in areas of mutual interest with a view to promoting peace, stability and development in Africa.

The EU aims to build a more inclusive multilateralism. This is why it also engages with civil society as well as with the private sector, social and other stakeholders.

Cooperation with the Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is an important multilateral actor and a key strategic partner to the EU. Its standard-setting role contributes substantively to upholding the rules-based international order. The EU and the Council of Europe are built on the same vision, ambitions and values which have taken root firmly in Europe: human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The EU and the Council of Europe also share a common vocation to promote these values and spread them further. The Council Conclusions on "EU priorities for cooperation with the Council of Europe in 2020-2022" demonstrate this commitment to work together on upholding fundamental democratic values and norms.

Freedom of the media, social rights, Artificial Intelligence and environmental protection are also areas of common strategic interest. The pandemic has shown that values-based organisations like the EU and Council of Europe must act as a political and moral compass for policy-makers and citizens alike. The key importance of our partnership is further demonstrated by the negotiations for EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Since January 2011, the EU Delegation in Strasbourg has served as the permanent diplomatic representation of the European Union to the Council of Europe.


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