In the annals of mind-bendingly obfuscatory teaser lines, the following from the New York Times surely must be given pride of place: “Germany may have secured one of the new nonpermanent seats on the U.N. Security Council, but with the rise of China, Europe’s influence is waning.” The teaser leads to the equally obfuscatory article available here and it indeed nicely captures the article’s tenor.
Never mind the Times’s typical conflation of Europe and Germany – as if it goes without saying that Germany’s interests are identical with that of all Europeans. What really happened on Tuesday, when both Germany and Portugal were elected to the Security Council, is that Europe’s international influence precisely and obviously increased. The election of the two countries means that beginning in January EU member states will hold four of the fifteen seats on the Security Council: including, of course, the permanent seats of France and Great Britain. In the Council’s present composition, EU countries hold three seats. China, with more than twice the population of the EU, will continue, of course, to have only one.
The Times article refers to the allegedly declining influence of the EU in the General Assembly. But it was precisely the Assembly that elected the two EU states to the Council. The mere fact that the EU was able to secure both seats – to the detriment of hapless Canada – thus indicates that the EU’s standing in the Assembly can hardly be so dismal as the Times appears to believe. In any case, it is, of course, in the Council, as the sole UN body with the authority to take binding decisions, that the real power in the UN lies.
A fifth European country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, will be a continuing member of the Council in 2011. Bosnia and Herzegovina does not yet belong to the EU. But the notoriously dysfunctional Bosnian state remains to this day under the supervision of a “High Representative” who, for all intents and purposes, is appointed by the EU and who since 2002 doubles as the EU’s “Special Representative” to the country. The High Representative wields dictatorial powers (commonly known as the “Bonn powers’), including, for instance, the power to impose legislation by personal fiat and even the power summarily to dismiss elected officials whom he or she deems unfit. In short, supposing that the EU countries in the Security Council have come to a consensus, it is virtually unthinkable that Bosnia and Herzegovina would not support that consensus.
In effect, beginning in 2011 the European Union will, either directly or indirectly, control some one-third of the votes in the UN Security Council. Not bad for a federation of states that includes only about 7-8% of the world’s population. But in the through-the-looking-glass inverted universe of the New York Times, this apparently counts as “waning influence.”