UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - An attempt by the European Union to upgrade its status at the United Nations hit a road-block on Tuesday when the General Assembly voted to postpone consideration of the changes Brussels wanted.
As part of efforts to boost its role on the world stage in line with its Lisbon Treaty, the 27-nation EU wants to speak in the assembly through its permanent officials rather than the ambassador of the country holding its rotating presidency.
Though apparently a minor procedural change, the move is important to Brussels but has aroused opposition from developing countries who fear the EU is being granted privileges their regional organizations do not have.
A motion put forward by the Caribbean group CARICOM called on the assembly to delay considering the resolution submitted by the EU to enshrine the change. It won narrowly by 76 to 71 votes, with 26 countries abstaining.
Since Tuesday marked the final day of the 2009-2010 assembly session, the EU resolution now gets pushed into the next annual session, which also began on Tuesday but already has a busy agenda for its first few months.
EU diplomats said they had not been expecting the setback and would have to consult on how to take the issue forward. “It was embarrassing,” a diplomat said.
Introducing the EU draft, Belgian Ambassador Jan Grauls announced several amendments designed to assure developing countries that their organizations could also aspire in future to the enhanced status the EU was seeking now.
He also said the EU was not seeking the status of a full U.N. member and would remain an observer. “Fundamental rights which belong only to United Nations members, such as voting or presentation of candidates, are excluded,” he said.
But, speaking for CARICOM, Suriname Ambassador Henry Mac-Donald said, “We submit that the draft text before us has not yet had the benefit of full consultations ... We feel that the proposal would alter the working methods of the (U.N.) organization and the interaction among member states.”
African and some Pacific nations also supported a delay, as did anti-Western states such as Iran and Venezuela.
Under the EU proposal, the EU would be represented in regular assembly proceedings by the head of its delegation to the United Nations, currently Spanish diplomat Pedro Serrano.
It also would have allowed new EU President Herman Van Rompuy of Belgium or foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton of Britain to speak for the bloc at next week’s high-profile gathering of world leaders in New York. Both those posts were created by Lisbon, which came into force last December.
In Brussels, a spokesman for Ashton sought to play down the setback.
“Let’s keep this in perspective. This is a deferral,” he said. “U.N. member states have spoken and asked for more time to consider our proposal. We accept this and will now work with the membership of the U.N. to find a common position as soon as possible.”
An EU diplomat, however, said that if the Europeans were hit with another vote to delay action on the EU resolution during the new assembly session, it could push a vote on the draft back until autumn 2011 at the earliest.
Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Brussels; Editing by Paul Simao