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Role of the European Union in the multilateral system of the UN

A commitment to multilateral global governance * is at the heart of the external action of the European Union (EU).

The EU develops relationships and builds partnerships with third countries and international, regional or global organisations which share its principles and values. It promotes multilateral solutions to global problems, in particular within the framework of the United Nations (UN) (Article 21 of the Treaty on EU).

The EU therefore contributes towards strengthening the effectiveness of the multilateral system and reforming the system of governance of the UN *, for a stronger international society founded on the proper functioning of international institutions and due process of law.

In addition, the European security strategy highlights the fundamental role of the Charter of the United Nations as a framework for international relations and the vital role of the UN Security Council in maintaining peace and global security.

EU participation in the UN system

The EU has had the status of observer member within the UN since 1974. Since the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the EU has had legal personality and sole capacity to represent the Member States at the UN (Resolution 665/276 of the UN General Assembly). These representation duties are performed by the President of the European Council, the High Representative, the Commission and the EU delegations.

The EU also has an essential role in the development, adoption and implementation of its partner countries’ multilateral commitments.

Finally, the partnership between the EU and the UN is based on political and operational cooperation for the completion of joint programmes and projects. In this respect, the combined financial contribution of the EU and its Member States is one of the main sources of the UN’s budget.

The principal areas of cooperation are as follows:

  • maintaining peace and security in the world, through a full partnership ranging from conflict prevention to reconstruction and peacebuilding. The EU’s contribution takes the form of human and financial resources. In addition, the EU’s foreign and security policy (CFSP) allows an increase in civil and military cooperation. This partnership extends to reform of the security sector, mediation and conflict management capacity, the combating of illicit trafficking in small arms and ammunition, and the promotion of the role of women in peace processes;
  • the promotion of human rights, gender equality and democracy, by defending standards and mechanisms for the protection of human rights, within the UN and through bilateral cooperation. Action in this area concerns, in particular, the rights of women and children, electoral assistance and the strengthening of parliaments, legal systems and civil society;
  • human, economic and social development, particularly by coordinating action in the field of development assistance and humanitarian aid. The fight against poverty and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) represent priorities for cooperation, including through the UN’s agencies, funds and thematic programmes;
  • environmental protection and tackling climate change, particularly for the adoption of agreements and international conventions, and for the reform of international environmental governance;
  • humanitarian assistance and food aid, in particular through the UN's special mandate and aid from the EU, which is the largest sponsor of operations undertaken worldwide. The partners are also committed to risk management, assessing the needs of third countries and reform of the humanitarian system;
  • the fight against international and regional threats to security, such as terrorism, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, organised crime, drug trafficking and money laundering.
Key terms
  • Multilateral governance: a method of organisation of international relations, involving more than two States.
  • System of governance of the UN: a concept defined by the Commission as applying to the main bodies of the UN (the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and their subsidiary bodies, the Security Council, the Secretariat), and the programmes, funds and specialised institutions of the United Nations, including the Bretton Woods institutions (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund).
Last updated: 22.09.2011

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