At UN, Van Rompuy hails EU's global role
by Daniel Mason
The European Union has "very concretely" met its global responsibilities even as it struggles to calm the storm of the eurozone sovereign debt crisis, Herman Van Rompuy said in a landmark speech to the United Nations general assembly in New York yesterday.
It was the first time an EU official had addressed the general assembly as a representative of the whole bloc, after it won an upgrade to its status in May this year. And the President of the European Council, speaking in both French and English, took the opportunity to outline a series of global "hopes" and "worries" – adding that the world had changed in the last year, "in some ways" for the better.
Yet, Van Rompuy mentioned the economic turmoil in Europe only briefly towards the end of his speech. He insisted that EU leaders were "taking the decisions, individually and jointly, to bring this storm to rest. We are acting with determination and in a spirit of solidarity. It requires political courage and statesmanship." While acknowledging that safeguarding eurozone stability was the "defining challenge for my generation," he said that the EU also felt a responsibility for the world economy.
But the main focus of the address was on what Van Rompuy said were the main hopes and worries that faced global leaders. The former Belgian prime minister said there were concerns about famine in Somalia, on-going wars and conflicts, the safety of nuclear reactors, climate change, nuclear proliferation and in particular the behaviour of political leaders in Iran and North Korea.
And with Palestine expected to table a bid for full UN membership today, Van Rompuy called for dialogue and negotiations" with Israel. "Populations have lived in fear and suffering for too long," he said, adding that leaders in the region had to "act now" and take political risks, because the "status quo is no option". Although the EU has been criticised for not formulating a clear collective position on the Palestinian resolution, Van Rompuy said Europe's own experiences should be a model for peace. "We can tell you, a lasting compromise is grounded on mutual sacrifice and trust."
Meanwhile he spoke of "hope" for millions who had climbed out of poverty in Asia, South America and Africa; for the UN's newest member South Sudan which won independence this year; and "most of all" for people in North Africa and the Middle East who were on the "road to democracy" in the wake of the Arab spring. Describing the latter as "one of the most momentous political developments since the end of the Cold War," he said the EU supported "democratic transformation and economic reforms benefitting the people – with financial resources, with access to our markets, with mobility among our countries, and with assistance for state and nation building."
Van Rompuy hailed the European response to the turmoil in the region. "When, earlier this year, there was the risk of a bloodbath in Benghazi, European leaders, together with others, acted with swiftness and determination, diplomatically, here in New York, and militarily. We could not allow the Libyan regime to takes the lives of its own people. The principle of 'responsibility to protect' was put into action – with perseverance and success." Now, he added, there was a "responsibility to assist".
The Arab spring taught two lessons, he said. The first was that after 9/11 there was no "era of religious hatred" as some had feared – as people in Tunis, Cairo, Benghazi and elsewhere "aspired to dignity, jobs, equal opportunities, social justice and democracy" rather than extremism. And secondly, regimes that do not allow peaceful change "will remain weak at heart". He said: "The EU takes up its responsibility. We act. Supporting the causes of hope. Fighting the causes of worry. And very concretely so."
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