chapter  3
24 Pages

Complex engagement: The EU and the UN system


The European Union has developed a strong public commitment to the UN, encapsulated in the European Security Strategy’s statement that ‘strengthening the United Nations, equipping it to fulfill its responsibilities and to act effectively, is a European priority’.1 But EU-UN relations are complicated by a history of crises – including the loss of European faith in the UN in the Western Balkans during the 1990s and the European Union’s split over the invasion of Iraq in 2003 – and the unresolved puzzle of whether the Union can ever be a coherent actor in an institutional framework based on state sovereignty. Indeed, the structure of the UN contains a number of in-built obstacles to the emergence of a cohesive EU identity. First, it institutionalizes a division between the two European permanent members of the Security Council (SC; Britain and France) and the other EU members. Second, while the European Union is a recognized grouping within the UN system, frequently making common statements and proposing resolutions as a bloc, this comes at the price of constant intra-EU negotiation (involving 1,000 meetings a year in New York alone). As Jørgensen and Laatikainen note, the need to coordinate at the UN highlights the European Union’s ‘split personality’ as ‘both actor in its own right and an arena for the expression of member-state interests’ (Jørgensen and Laatikainen 2006: 10).2