NEW YORK (EJP)---The European Parliament announced it would be represented at the opening of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York Tuesday, a part of the EU’s attempts to assert its continued validity on the global stage.
The news comes after EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was forced to fend off criticism, from European parliamentarians at a plenary session in Strasbourg earlier this month, about the apparent inefficacy of the EU in leading diplomacy on issues of international concern, such as Iran’s contested nuclear programme and the Syria crisis.
Responding to criticisms of the EU’s handling of the Syria crisis, Ashton insisted: “We are not inactive. The EU is respected for what we do to try and support the people of Syria and to try and find a way through this incredibly difficult challenge. Because frankly, if it was easy, we would have done it by now.”
A European Parliament statement Friday confirmed that Vice President Othmar Karas would represent the chamber at the UN for the first time, to show “the honest commitment of European Heads of State and Government to further democratisation and parliamentarisation of the European Union”.
"If we are serious about making the EU not just a project of governments, but of citizens, then the European Parliament, which is the citizens' chamber, must be involved in all EU decisions. In the EU and elsewhere, we see that traditional international law is reaching its limits. In an ever more interlinked world, more and more transnational decisions are necessary. This growing number of decisions cannot be taken without democratic legitimisation", Karas’ statement continued.
Karas is also set to form part of an EU delegation at a high level meeting on the rule of law Wednesday, which will also include EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso, and Ashton.
The apparent public relations drive to bolster confidence in the EU was further emphasised with a statement on the EU’s involvement at UN level, which highlighted the unanimity of EU members’ voting patterns at General Assembly level across 27 of its member states as well as its four members commanding permanent positions on the UN Security Council.
Referring to a resolution adopted by a previous General Assembly meeting in May 2011 which gave the EU the right of reply in addition to its observer status, the statement stressed the EU’s “right to orally present proposals and amendments, a possibility that no other observer has at its disposal, and the right to reply once to a speech regarding EU positions”.
Critically for critics of the EU’s often condemnatory attitude to Israel, the statement aligned the EU’s status at the UN with that of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which it referred to as a country in its own right, for its ability “to intervene in the general debate at the opening of the General Assembly”.
The statement comes as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is widely expected to appeal to the UN for a status upgrade to classify it a non-member observer state, as opposed to just holding “observer entity” status, and would place it in the same bracket as the Vatican. Despite the move being fiercely opposed by the US as counter-productive to stalled peace talks with Israel, the motion would only require the support of a majority of the 193-nation UN General Assembly, and is seen by many as a compromise following the body’s veto of last year’s appeal by Abbas for unilateral statehood.
Abbas is due to address the assembly on Thursday, in what is seen by Israel’s supporters as the first move towards its planned objective of pursuing Israel and its contested settlement building programme through the international courts.
Fears mounted that the UN could be on the verge of capitulating to the PA, after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a statement Sunday calling on the international community to strengthen its support for the PA.
“The vision of a two-State solution and the achievements of the Palestinian Authority are key elements of stability and progress. They must be maintained and realized in full without further delay,” he insisted.