1. Okt. 2009
«Never was the world so in need of the UN,
but never was the UN so in need of reform»
United Nations: Reform and the Council of Europe member states
THE PRESIDENT (Translation). – The next item of business this morning is the debate on the United Nations Reform and the Council of Europe member states, presented by Mr Gross on behalf of the Political Affairs Committee (Document 12018). I remind members that we have agreed to interrupt the list of speakers at about 11.50 a.m., in order to leave sufficient time for the replies and the vote. I call Mr Gross, rapporteur. You have 13 minutes in total, which you may divide between presentation of the report and reply to the debate. (Mr Prescott, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Mr Wille.)
Mr GROSS (Switzerland). – I apologise for still being here, but at least I have a new friend at my side.
We deal now with the reform of the United Nations. Some colleagues may ask why we should address that issue. It is traditional that the only developed, pan-European parliamentary Organisation deals with the only universal organisation that politics has. We have always been interested in the UN and we have always wanted to improve it. This report does not repeat the last report – …
THE PRESIDENT. – May I ask members to co-operate? If they have to have conversations, can they please go outside so that we can hear what Mr Gross has to say as he opens this important debate?
Mr GROSS (Switzerland). – Thank you. Mrs de Zulueta produced two reports in the last five years and Mrs Severinsen has produced three since the turn of the century. Every time, we ask how we can improve the functioning of the UN so that it works better. The President of Slovenia, who will speak to us shortly, worked closely with Kofi Annan some five or six years ago, and he has said, «Never was the world so in need of the UN, but never was the UN so in need of reform». The main subject of the previous report was how to give the UN a parliamentary base and how to do that in the most efficient way. This report includes a nice dialogue with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, but we have to ask why the momentum towards reform has slowed and why the attempted reforms of three years ago failed. Kofi Annan put reform at the top of his agenda, but it did not happen. Why have European countries, who comprise nearly a quarter of UN states, never tried to join forces to achieve the reforms on which they agree? That is the subject of my report.
Today, it seems as though governments are tired of talking about UN reform even though we have never before had so many problems that can only be solved if we work together, such as climate change, pollution, poverty and wars. If the UN functioned better, millions of lives could be saved, so it is irresponsible not to consider how to reform the organisation.
The main point of the report is that European countries should work together to try to improve the functioning of the UN. As Mr Björn von Sydow has said, we should use the will that we have found in the last few months to work better with the Committee of Ministers to draw up a reform agenda on which European countries agree – including compromises in those areas in which we disagree – to achieve the change that the UN so desperately needs.
Of course, Council of Europe member states fall into different categories. For example, three are permanent members of the Security Council and two of those three are very much aware that the Security Council – the most powerful part – reflects the reality of 65 years ago, not the reality of today. Africa, Latin America and Asia are not represented and Europe and the northern hemisphere are over-represented. The French and the Brits are ready to discuss reform, and the Russians are also interested in making the UN more efficient. Efficiency will be achieved by better representation, when all the peoples of the world are represented by the UN – the core aim of the UN – and recognise themselves in the most powerful organisation in the world.
From the reactions in various capitals, it appears possible that we can achieve a common agenda. We cannot invent a new UN, so we must improve the one that we have. Interestingly, the Council of Europe and the UN are children of the same catastrophe. In 1945, it was necessary to reorganise the power relationships so that such a catastrophe never happened again. Today, we have to reorganise what was established then, but we do not do so in response to a war. We have to learn how to reform without catastrophe, and that is much more demanding.
Last week, US President Obama spoke in favour of strengthening the UN in a way that we could not have imagined a US president doing in the last 20 years and the US ambassador to the UN is a dedicated UN reformer. So Europe has partners in its attempts at reform, but we need momentum and that must come from the Council of Europe and from our governments at home. We must step up and work together to make the reforms that the UN needs so much.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. - I must now interrupt the list of speakers. The speeches of the members on the speakers’ list who have been present during the debate but have not been able to speak may be given to the Table Office for publication in the official report. I call Mr Gross to reply. You have five minutes remaining of the 13 minutes.
Mr GROSS (Switzerland). – I thank you all for your welcome and your support for the report. I regret that I could not reach a compromise with Mr Daems. Mrs Stump says that I am treating the IPU unfairly. I said in my introduction that the relationship with the IPU was dealt with by my predecessor. I did not want to repeat the points made in the report that she prepared. I just took up its conclusions. Our Italian colleague supported this point. We need a parliamentary body in the UN. We should look not only for national parliaments to be in the UN; we should look for a world element. That is why Mrs De Zulueta came up with the idea three years ago of having bodies such as the Council of Europe in all continents. Delegates of parliamentary bodies from all continents could form an associative element of the General Assembly.
We do not want to destroy each other on the way; we want to work together until we get there. Nobody should think that it offers the exclusive route to achieve our goals. The weakness of the IPU is that it thinks it is the only body that can do that. We think we have the right to think about it. We have also been present in every General Assembly of the UN in the past 10 years. About six years ago, I could show that in the human rights dimension the Council of Europe was achieving what the UN should have been achieving for every citizen of the world. If you look at paragraph 63 of my report, you will see that American professors agree that the Council of Europe offers human rights protection for every citizen and has a court system to protect that. It is an example for others to follow.
I disagree with our French colleague. A parliamentary assembly is completely different from a diplomatic assembly. The UN General Assembly is only diplomatic. Some things are not said and we are more free to speak up, especially when there is disagreement. As someone said yesterday, disagreement is the only way to learn from each other. That is why we should enable people to disagree to push forward an organisation. Our Spanish colleague asked us yesterday to push forward and try to include ecology and the environment in the human rights declaration. That is why we need this element and to have another debate on making the UN more suited to meeting the demands of the people. It has often arrived too late at an issue.
It is true that there are 18 agencies worldwide. On human rights issues we have 20 agencies. The UN is dealing with a reform package to have a UN with one responsible person, one budget and one place where this is organised, but it cannot cope with that reform. The discussion should be more open, more self-critical and pushed by national parliamentarians, because it is the governments that have to make the change. We should find a better way to express ourselves in the UN.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you, Mr Türk. The next question is from Mr Gross, on behalf of the Socialist Group.
Mr GROSS (Switzerland). – Mr Türk, thank you for your speech. We took it as encouragement for the Council of Europe. I would like you to share with us your ideas on how the Council of Europe can encourage United Nations reform. Just a few weeks ago, we had a conflict between ministers, ambassadors and parliamentarians, and we pushed each other to another level. That shows how important parliamentarians can be. That is why I would be really interested to hear how you, as someone with great know-how about the United Nations, think that we can be a source of input into the United Nations.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Türk?
Mr TÜRK. – Thank you for the question, Mr Gross. Obviously, it is good that the Council of Europe and its parliamentarians think about global issues, too, because Europe has never thought of itself as an isolated place in the world. It has to interact with the rest of the world, and it has to inspire, wherever that is possible.
To come specifically to the question of the Council of Europe as a possible source of inspiration to the United Nations, I shall mention two examples, although there are many more. You mentioned one of them yourself: the whole experience of the strengthening of the parliamentary role within the Council of Europe. We have to be aware that the role of the parliamentarian dimension has not stayed the same since the beginning. There was an assembly called the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe, which had a rather limited consultative purpose. Now we have a Parliamentary Assembly. As I emphasised in my statement, it is important that we understand the basis of legitimacy that that very fact brings, and that we understand the weight of the recommendations made by the Parliamentary Assembly, which are special precisely because the parliamentarians represent the people of the Council of Europe.
Furthermore, taking advantage of recent experiences and discussions held in the past month, I would say that the United Nations still lacks a parliamentary dimension. It does not have a consultative, let alone parliamentary, assembly. Of course, one might say that the United Nations is a much more open organisation, and parliamentary democracy is not something that the United Nations has put at the centre of its system, but things are changing. We have seen changes over the past 20 years that certainly call for a parliamentary branch of the United Nations. Perhaps there could be a consultative body to start with, a body that is open to all those member states of the United Nations who would like to express their parliamentary dimension more clearly and with more focus.
I should like to mention another area, one that has proven sensitive for the Council of Europe for many decades, but is now a much more daily and normal consideration: the issue of minorities. There was a time when the Council of Europe was not able to deal with the issue of minorities in all its dimensions, but that is in the past. Now, with the various instruments that we have adopted, and the work of the expert bodies, that has changed. The United Nations is not moving at the same pace, although the problems are such that they require much more sophisticated treatment than they currently receive.
The United Nations too often waits for ethnic tensions to degenerate into open armed conflict before it is dealt with by one of its organs. That is far too late. Things have to be addressed much earlier, and there have to be structures that allow that to take place. That is not happening, and perhaps the Council of Europe, with its current expertise and its historical experience, can be of help. Those are two examples that I can quote today. There are many more, Mr President, but if we wanted to discuss them, we would need to organise a special conference.
THE PRESIDENT. – That is a good suggestion. Thank you.