The European Union's commitment to effective multilateralism, with the United Nations at its core, is a central element of the EU’s external policy, as set out in the EU Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy. To respond successfully to global crises, threats and challenges, the international community needs an efficient multilateral system, founded on universal rules and values. The United Nations (UN) is a key EU partner and an indispensable global forum for tackling global challenges, within the overall framework of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
In recent years, the EU has intensified its engagement as a global player and is translating multilateralism into action, in line with the Global Strategy for the European Union's Foreign and Security Policy and the Council Conclusions on EU action to strengthen rules-based multilateralism. In September 2018, the EU and the UN confirmed the deepening of their partnership in several areas and are now working to implement global solutions to global challenges, in view of a safer and better world for all.
Economically, the EU has benefited greatly from the multilateral rules-based system which creates the framework for free and fair trade. Protectionism would reduce growth in the EU and around the world, and could mean lower standards and unfair competition.
The EU Global Strategy envisages the strengthening of multilateral processes where they already exist (e.g. trade, maritime security, marine resources) and the expansion of fledgling international regimes in areas such as disarmament, arms control or international criminal law. The EU also aspires to play a leading role in supporting the emergence of multilateral governance in areas such as cyber security, digital economy, space and health.
"Without global norms and the means to enforce them, peace and security, prosperity and democracy – our vital interests – are at risk. Guided by the values on which it is founded, the EU is committed to a global order based on international law, including the principles of the UN Charter, which ensure peace, human rights, sustainable development and lasting access to the global commons. This commitment translates into an aspiration to transform rather than simply preserve the existing system. The EU will strive for a strong UN as the bedrock of the multilateral rules-based order, and develop globally coordinated responses with international and regional organisations, states and non-state actors."
- EU Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy.
The EU is the single largest financial contributor to the UN system. The level of the contributions of the 27 EU Member States amounts to almost 30% of the regular UN budget and more than 31% of the UN peacekeeping budget. In addition, the EU and its Member States also provide about a quarter of all the voluntary contributions to UN funds and programmes. The European Commission alone contributed €2.92 billion to support UN external assistance programmes and projects in 2018. Cooperation takes place across a broad range of areas: development, human rights, climate change, peace building, crisis management, disarmament and non-proliferation, humanitarian assistance, fighting corruption and crime, addressing global health concerns, managing migratory flows and labour issues.
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. The EU priorities also stress key challenges ahead, including the need for global responsibility-sharing on migration and refugees, solving crises, sustaining peace, and tackling terrorism and violent extremism.
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.
In addition, the EU benefits from access to the UN Security Council, where France and the UK have permanent seats and other EU Member States serve as non-permanent members. EU Member States on the Security Council keep the EU institutions and other Member States fully informed of the Security Council’s work and, as appropriate, reflect EU positions.
Pursuant to Article 34 of the Treaty on European Union, “when the Union has defined a position on a subject which is on the United Nations Security Council agenda, those Member States which sit on the Security Council shall request that the High Representative be invited to present the Union’s position”. UN reform and increased efficiency.
The EU supports the reform of the UN system, including its bodies and organs, to ensure it is fit to address the complex, multi-sectoral challenges we face today. This should include comprehensive reform of the UN Security Council as well as revitalisation of the work of the General Assembly. The EU supports the notion that the United Nations must be ‘fit for purpose’ as well as increasingly effective and efficient. Successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda requires support from a UN that steps up its efforts to deliver integrated and coordinated policy support.
In addition to the UN, the EU also works very closely with a multitude of other international organisations and entities, for example the World Trade Organisation (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Bank in the field of economy and trade; the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in the realm of security; the Council of Europe, International Labour Organisation (ILO) across areas including human rights; or the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Energy Agency (IEA) to name a few more.
The EU is strongly committed to multilateral solutions to global challenges, offering steadfast support to international agreements such as the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change or the 2015 deal to prevent the development of nuclear weapons by Iran (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
Finally, the EU seeks close cooperation with other regional and multinational groupings in order to address common challenges together and work together at the international level. For example, the EU works very closely with the African Union to promote peace, stability and development in Africa and our shared region. The trilateral AU-EU-UN cooperation is an example of effective multilateralism in action, a new paradigm of joining forces with international and regional actors to address global challenges. Similarly, the EU has strong relations with groupings such as the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The EU seeks to conclude open multilateral trade deals and recently has finalised a new generation of trade and political agreements with Canada, Japan, Vietnam and Singapore as well as with Mercosur.