The UNSC is not –and was not meant to be- democratic, accountable, representative, or transparent. This has justified many claims for reform. The main obstacles of reforming this body are two; firstly, those in the Security Council (SC) are not willing to give up or share their veto power and secondly, there are so many pretenders to enter the club that opening the body without changing the veto right would make the SC simply unworkable.
Amid the more general debate on UNSC reform there is also the discussion on whether the EU should become either a member or an observer in the SC. This option has a lot of opposition, both from within the EU (France and UK) as well as from outside. Alternatively, some experts have been proposing a reform of the SC in which the EU and other regional organisations alike could sit to discuss world security issues. This option has been widely regarded as visionary and politically unrealistic. However, the latest developments in the world and the growing regionalisation in South-America, Africa or Asia start to hint a tendency which could change world politics as we know it. The question arises on how would a change from a SC composed of a selected and privative club of 5 countries evolve into a council of world regions.
Changing the institutional structure of the UNSC
The architecture of UN, and more specially of the UNSC, is a lot weaker than that of the EU. The fathers of the EU wanted –as Jean Monnet put it- that the “institutions survived them” in a sense that the institutions would be able to carry the European integration forward after the founding fathers died and when the memory of the war would have faded. Indeed, the EU institutions have been designed in a way to allow for enlargements, democratisation upgrades, changes in distribution of power, and other changes. The UNSC is exactly the opposite. It is a body that was designed for a very different historical reality and is as such not prone to enlargements or democratisations. With the veto power as its main decision-making characteristic, the architecture of the SC doesn’t provide any incentive for change permanent members, such as France or UK who will hold on to privileges regardless of how unfairly they represent their current weight in global politics.
Germany has been intermittently pushing to have a permanent seat in the UNSC since 20 years and after the likely failure of the G4 initiative (Germany, Brazil, India and Japan push to get permanent seats) it looks like the biggest European economy will have to look for an alternative strategy to make its voice heard in the UNSC. Germany has always stated that its goal was to obtain a European seat in the SC but in view of the negative response from UK and France to give away their seats this was seen as a mission impossible.
A seat for the EU in the SC
What are the arguments for the EU to have a seat in the UNSC? Unlike with trade policy the EU doesn’t have single foreign and defence policy. Thus, many claim that this is a reason not to change the status quo. However it might well be that the EU seat in the UNSC could be a mean rather than an end in itself; by being in the SC the EU would be forced to craft a more cohesive foreign policy in order to speak with one voice.
Another consequence from the EU being in the SC would be the first injection of world regionalism into the SC. Such move could open the door for other world regions such as the African Union to enter world governance structures. At the same time, it is unlikely that world regions such as the EU could obtain veto power, unless France or UK would resign their privileges –which they won’t do in the near future-. The main practical reason behind the EU wanting a seat in the SC would be to give Germany indirectly a seat at the SC table. This is particularly relevant after its last decade’s frustrated attempts to obtain a seat.
Notwithstanding the motivations, it is a generally agreed that any change of the status quo that requires opening the UN charter is very unlikely to happen in the short term. More pressure from the emerging economies to shift the balance of power in the world governance bodies is needed before the SC fortress can be cracked.
Workable short term reform of UNSC
In order to work out a realistic short term solution while continuing the discussion on the development of the world regionalism, we should take into account the following factors: Firstly, as discussed above, it is unthinkable that France and the UK will give away their seat in the SC freely. Secondly, it is in the interest of the EU to find an answer to the calls for a more balanced and updated representation of world powers -and the sooner the better because its decline on the global stage is associated with the decline in its bargaining power-. Thirdly, that a solution has to be found to accommodate Germany in the new world order especially after the failure of the G4 experience. Fourthly, that outside Europe the perception is that “too many Europeans” are already in the global institutions. And finally that whatever solution is found it is preferable that it doesn’t require amending the UN charter for it can mean opening the Pandora’s box.
Bearing in mind these conditions, a workable short term solution for the EU –and more concretely for Germany- would be to merge the two European regions with rights to nominate non-permanent SC members (western Europe has the right to select 2 non-permanent members and Eastern Europe 1) and merge them into one “EU + others” group but giving only 2 rotating non-permanent seats to this new region. This option would allow the EU to arrange at least 1 of these 2 representatives and hence give priority to Germany so that it could effectively be present in most UNSC negotiations –although without veto right. Moreover, it would decrease the “European” presence in the UNSC –it would have 2 instead of 3 non-permanent members- which would make this proposal acceptable for other world countries who believe that the European representation should be scaled down. Finally it would give the option to the EU to work better as coordinator of this new “UN grouping”.