Address of President Charles Michel at the 78th session of the UN General Assembly

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21 September 2023

The Security Council Chamber is decorated with a mural.

In it, the Norwegian artist, Per Krohg, depicts a phoenix. The phoenix is rising from a world covered in ashes, a world rebuilding itself after war. The lower section of the mural is dark, showing a dragon, soldiers and war machines.

The United Nations was founded to protect us from our demons. To elevate the global community towards peace, cooperation and solidarity. And yet… The climate crisis is wreaking havoc. The global effort to combat poverty is faltering. The Russian war against Ukraine is aggravating food insecurity and generating an energy crisis.

We are losing the sense of urgency which the pandemic instilled in us. And progress on gender equality is too slow.

‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’. This is the mantra of the Indian Presidency of the G20. We are, after all, a global family. And the United Nations is the backbone of this family. But as Secretary-General Guterres says, this family is a dysfunctional one.

The European Union aspires to a multipolar world, a world which cooperates and moves towards greater democracy and more respect for human rights.

But trust is eroding. Tensions are multiplying. A dangerous bipolar confrontation threatens us. As if everyone has to take sides against each other.

Just like the frantic nuclear arms race last century, artificial intelligence, particularly in the military sphere, is becoming the arena for geopolitical competition.

The late Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld, wisely said: ‘The United Nations was not created in order to bring us to heaven, but in order to save us from hell’.

Today, the United Nations system is stuck in a rut, and is being hindered by hostile forces. We must put multilateral cooperation back on track. For that, we need to:

Restore trust.

Resolve the most pressing problems.

Repair the United Nations system.

Trust is built on respect for the sacred principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter. Respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, and human rights.

Nevertheless, for the last 19 months, a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia, has been waging a war of conquest against a neighbouring country which has never threatened it. A war with all its horror and contempt for human life.

The General Assembly has condemned Russia’s war against Ukraine on several occasions. This is, of course, a powerful reminder of the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. But that has not stopped the Kremlin in its murderous adventure. Nor has it curbed its sense of impunity… But this impunity will not last forever. Justice will be done. The European Union will steadfastly support Ukraine in exercising its right of self-defence.

During this war against Ukraine, the other major challenges facing the world have not gone away.

The planet is boiling. The world is torn apart by poverty and injustices. A miracle will not happen if we do not decide to mobilise the necessary funding. Now.

We have made a collective pledge to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. But if we stick to the schedule announced so far, global warming will reach 2.5 degrees by the end of the century.

We must wake up to this reality! The European Union has raised its targets for renewable energy use and energy efficiency. We are calling for a tripling of renewable energy targets, with the G20 following suit, and a doubling of energy efficiency targets by 2030.

It is also in the interest of all developed countries to help developing countries to move towards net-zero emissions. Only one quarter of global private investment is being made in developing countries. And yet, the G20 is responsible for 80% of global emissions…

And only this year is the international community expected to reach the USD 100 billion mark for the international financing of climate action. The European Union has been a driving force, providing USD 26 billion in 2021, more than its share.

The International Energy Agency estimates that global investment in the energy transition must reach USD 5 000 billion per annum in 2030 ‒ yes, more than 4% of global GDP. And that figure will have to be maintained until 2050 in order to achieve zero-carbon. At the upcoming COP28 in Dubai, we must establish the financing for the Loss and Damage Fund decided on last year in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Finally, natural disasters are unfolding at a dizzying pace. On every continent. And most recently in Libya. Now more than ever, an international disaster fund is necessary to ensure rapid and fair assistance and strengthen our collective resilience. Prevention is key.

Hence the importance of the work which we support within the United Nations on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Similarly, trade is a powerful lever to bring together climate challenges and prosperity. We call for an urgent solution for the World Trade Organization’s dispute settlement mechanism.

The economic and financial situation of vulnerable economies has been seriously affected by the COVID-19 crisis and by Russia’s war in Ukraine. More than 50 low-income countries have defaulted on their debts, and a dozen others could follow suit.

Because of debt-servicing, which has supplanted expenditure on social protection, health and education, 165 million individuals worldwide have been tipped into poverty. No-one should be forced to choose between alleviating poverty and greening the economy.

We cannot afford the luxury of another debate about how much money to donate. It’s a question of making the global financial system more robust, fairer, and better prepared for the 21st century. The reallocation of USD 100 billion in special drawing rights constitutes an important step. And we should go further.

We also support the ‘Sustainable Development Goals Stimulus’ presented by Secretary-General Guterres. The EU is fully committed to implementing the G20 Common Framework for Debt Treatments.

It is the Bretton Woods system that requires fundamental reform. Fairer. More inclusive. And more effective. That is the aim.

These institutions were created when many countries were still under colonial rule. The world has changed since then. However, the G7 countries still wield almost absolute decision-making power.

The European Union is prepared to better share power. Because the regions that have virtually no say need to be better involved in the decisions that directly affect them.

Secondly, there is a need for a financial shake-up. Whole regions of the world are deprived of access to financing, thereby not only hampering progress towards the sustainable development goals, but also increasing the risk of a debt crisis.

The Paris Summit for a New Global Financing Pact ‒ convened by the French President and the Prime Minister of Barbados ‒ showed the way forward in that regard. In the words of Mia Mottley, there is now ‘the need for pace and scope. (…) Let us (…) not only do the right thing, but do it in time, and do it for the right reasons.’

We must make better use of state capital to stimulate private investment. We need to increase the lending capacity of international financial institutions as an essential safety net. To give an example: in the course of just 60 years, the World Bank’s financing power, as a proportion of global production, has fallen more than sevenfold! And we need to reduce the cost of access to credit for vulnerable countries, which is several times higher than for advanced countries.

We also need to adapt the rules of the multilateral development banks as regards capital adequacy. This will allow them to utilise their balance sheets in a more dynamic way without jeopardising their soundness.

Precisely three years ago, Dr Tedros and I put forward the idea of an international treaty on pandemics. Together, we convinced the international community to launch negotiations within the framework of the WHO.

The world needs an ambitious and legally binding instrument to prevent, prepare for and respond to any future pandemics. It must be of benefit to everyone, in particular developing countries and those who are most vulnerable.

I now call on the parties to redouble their efforts to conclude those negotiations by May 2024. The European Union is making determined efforts to that end. We remain an open-minded and thoughtful negotiating partner.

The Secretary-General and his teams are the workhorses of action on a massive scale for the benefit of humankind. But United Nations governance is all too often hindered. The European Union supports the proposals for reform presented by the Secretary-General in ‘Our Common Agenda’. We also welcome the progress made on working methods.

Today, I would like to bring a new perspective to the debate on United Nations reform. As well as three proposals. One concerning the right to veto. One concerning representativeness. And one concerning the role to be played by regional organisations. On those points, I call for an amendment to the United Nations Charter.

The right to veto in its current form is subject to abuse. It renders the Council powerless. A permanent member of the Security Council can flagrantly violate our Charter and international law… The fact that it has the right to veto sanctions against itself is even more shocking. And the fact that it exploits the Security Council for the purpose of propaganda and disinformation.

The Charter provides that a member of the Security Council should abstain from voting when it is the subject of the vote. I call on other members of the Security Council to invoke that clause when it could involve Russia.

The European Union supports France and Mexico’s initiative aiming to limit the right to veto in cases of mass atrocities. We support the code of conduct regarding Security Council action against genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. And all efforts to enhance the transparency and accountability of the Security Council.

In the context of Charter reform, I believe we should set up a mechanism that combines majority decision-making with moderate and flexible use of the right to veto.

Two: representativeness. The Security Council does not reflect today’s world. There are 60 countries which have never yet had a seat on the Security Council.

Whole swathes of the world – Africa, South America, the Caribbean, Asia – have little or no representation. We support a global reform of the United Nations Security Council which strengthens the voices of these regions and countries.

Power and legitimacy go hand in hand. The Security Council’s lack of representativeness is undermining its legitimacy. Legitimacy is key and should be reinforced on two fronts.

The United Nations, as its name suggests, is a club of nations. When we contemplate reforming the multilateral system, we consider the nation state to be its basic unit. An increase in the number of permanent members of the Security Council is inevitable. We must move beyond this status quo.

The role played by regional and continental organisations is growing. The European Union, of course, the African Union, the Community of Latin-American and Caribbean States (CELAC), ASEAN, etc. These organisations reflect a new level of legitimacy in international and multilateral fora.

They play a part in political and economic coordination among their members. They create spaces for closer cooperation. They also become spaces where rules are made.

That is the case of European integration. But the EU’s example serves as an inspiration to others. Like the African Union, which is working to create a huge common trade area. These organisations are exerting a growing influence on the multilateral stage. They are vital contributors to stability. Their role in the multilateral system must grow. After all, they shape the structure of the multipolar world we are hoping for.

That is why through my vote the European Union immediately supported the call by Senegalese President Macky Sall to include the African Union as a full member of the G20.

I am convinced that the United Nations would become more legitimate and effective if it gave a place to regional organisations. Including them would create a virtuous circle. It would encourage regional organisations to cooperate more and better with each other, contributing to their own stability. And their stabilising influence would be further boosted in multilateral cooperation.

I will soon be taking the initiative to hold an institutional summit between the European Union, African Union, CELAC, ASEAN and with the United Nations Secretary-General.

The aim will be to reflect on how our organisations can act together to strengthen the multilateral system. In the framework of the United Nations and in the other international fora.

The European Union is a sound world partner. Multilateral cooperation is in our DNA. The EU and its Member States are the world’s biggest donor for development and peace-keeping. Including in regions in which conflicts are protracted hopelessly.

In the Sahel, successive military coups are fuelling instability and insecurity, under the pretext of reducing them. I would like to take this opportunity to send a message of friendship and personal support to the President of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, who has been imprisoned in his home by a military junta for 56 days now.

In the Middle East, we maintain that lasting peace will only be achieved when Palestinians and Israelis live in security in the context of the two-state solution.

We are shocked by the latest devastating developments in the South Caucasus. Military force is never a sustainable solution when there are hearts and minds to be won.

Around the globe, the European Union will continue to assume its responsibilities, with anyone who wishes to work towards the common good. The EU we will never allow itself to be intimidated by violence or blackmail.

The Per Krohg mural is a work of imagination. But it is also an appeal to our conscience. Now more than ever before, in a world faced with multiple dangers.

The philosopher Friedrich Hölderlin said, ‘But where the danger lies, also grows the saving power.’ Faced with dangers, we have a vision of a better world. We have powerful means. I believe in the power of collective intelligence. It is up to us to act. Now. To make the world fairer, freer and more prosperous.

Thank you.

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