Remarks to the UN Security Council on the EU’s role in international security


United Nations, New York HR/VP Josep Borrell sets out the EU’s strong support for effective multilateralism and the work of the United Nations. He gives detailed examples of how the EU is working to promote peace and security in many crises that are on the agenda of the UN Security Council.

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Mr President [of the high-level videoconference, Permanent Representative of Estonia to the United Nations, Sven Jürgenson],

It is an honour for me to brief the Security Council on European Union-United Nations cooperation on international peace and security. I am pleased to do so while Estonia is chairing [the United Nations Security Council].

The outbreak of COVID-19 is a test for our humanity, but also for the multilateral system itself. This crisis demonstrates that global challenges require collective action. Climate change, COVID-19: these are not problems that any country can solve on its own.

Indeed, the rules-based international order –with the United Nations at its core– must be upheld and strengthened. There is no other option to get out of this crisis.

The pandemic is shaking the very foundations of our societies, exposing the vulnerabilities of the most fragile countries. It risks unravelling progress achieved over recent years in achieving the SDGs and pushing millions back into poverty.

It can deepen existing conflicts and generate new geopolitical tensions. That is why the European Union was one of the earliest and strongest supporter of the call by United Nations Secretary General [António] Guterres for a global ceasefire.

We regret that only in very few cases has there been a reduction in violence: in fact only 2 out of 43 countries, according to the report of the Armed Conflict Location and Data Project.

We also support the appeal by Human Rights Commissioner Michele Bachelet to ensure that sanctions do not hinder humanitarian aid, as is fully the case for the European Union.

At a time of global crisis, we need a Security Council able to take the necessary decisions and not one that is paralysed by vetoes and political infighting.

Mr President,

The European Union is doing whatever it takes to combat the coronavirus crisis. We know our battle at home can only succeed if we defeat the virus around the world.

For this reason, the European Union, its Member States and European financial institutions have combined resources for €23 billion –that is what we call the “Team Europe” package- to support partner countries and the most vulnerable.

We fully agree with Secretary General Guterres that the socio-economic recovery package must aim to “build back better”, by investing in sustainable and resilient societies.

In these troubled times, emergency measures are necessary. But they must be proportionate, temporary and in compliance with the rule of law and international obligations.

Respect for human rights remains essential, especially for the most vulnerable parts of our society.  I think all of us agree on that.

Mr President,

When others may be backing away, the European Union remains a staunch supporter of a strong United Nations as the beating heart of the multilateral system.

Secretary General Guterres is right to say that “multilateralism is under threat precisely when we need it most”. We, therefore, support his efforts to advance the United Nations reform process and to use the organisation’s 75th anniversary, to work for a rejuvenated United Nations.

That is a time of growing scepticism, but we must demonstrate the United Nations added value and relevance.

This is why the European Union and its Member States support United Nations reform and are the largest financial contributor to the United Nations system. We pay our dues in full and on time.

Also in the area of peace and security, the European Union is a generous, reliable partner.  All of the European Union's 17 crisis management missions and operations cooperate closely with members of the United Nations family. Indeed, 11 of those [European Union] missions and operations share the same theatre with a United Nations mission. In some cases we even share barracks and camps.


We know that women play a crucial role in securing peace and security –and we need to harness their role and contributions. This was the central reason for adoption, 20 years ago, of the ground-breaking resolution UNSC 1325. Yes, we have made progress since, but much work remains to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment. So let us pursue this agenda with determination.

Mr President,

Let me say some words about our immediate neighbourhood, which is Africa. Africa is our sister continent, and a major strategic partner for the European Union.

From the Sahel to the Horn, from the Central African Republic to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the European Union is actively backing political processes, providing financial support, and contributing to peacebuilding and stabilisation and development.

With one motto: African solutions to African problems. We cooperate very closely with the African Union, including the Commissioner for peace and security Mr [Smail] Cherqui, with whom I just had a phone call.

Of course, we cannot substitute our partners. What we can do and what we are doing is to accompany their efforts.

Today, let me specially address the situation on the Sahel. The Sahel is a test case, with all elements of the modern foreign policy agenda being at play: security, extremism and terrorism, governance, sustainable development, migration and climate change are all driving the conflict dynamics and explain why we need an integrated approach.

Since 2014, the European Union and its Member States have provided massive financial support to the Sahel region, for a total of almost €9 billion. The European Union has recently broadened the scope of its work and has three missions deployed to help build regional capacity of military and security forces.

But the hard truth is that the situation in the Sahel keeps deteriorating at an alarming pace. A few figures show it: 4,000 lives were lost to terrorist attacks this year; 800,000 displaced in Burkina Faso - seven times more than one year ago; around 50 million people at risk of food insecurity due to terrorism and COVID-19. These figures are really alarming and I wonder if public opinion all around the world are aware of the gravity of this crisis.

So, we must be ready to do more and better – and we are, together with the G5 and the African Union. The same can be said about the Horn of Africa, where European Union cooperation with the African Union and the United Nations is crucial.

Our analysis of the situation is the same. Our commitment to work jointly is strong. Together with our partners, we must stay the course.

Mr President,

A major crisis right on the European Union’s doorstep is the crisis in Libya. We have seen the absurd situation of fighters wearing masks to protect themselves while exchanging fire with machine guns. Killing each other, but with a mask in order to prevent contagion. The European Union is working hard to create the conditions for a ceasefire; it is not easy and there are many agendas at play. But we cannot lose our hope and stop our work.

There is no alternative to an inclusive political solution. But to find a political solution, we need to stop the flows of weapons into Libya and create the space for real dialogue.

With this objective in mind, we have launched a new operation in the Mediterranean: we call it Operation Irini, which is related with hope. Its core task is to implement the United Nations arms embargo through naval, aerial and satellite assets. The operation builds on the achievements of Operation Sophia, which so far has been the only operation actively implementing the United Nations arms embargo and reporting accordingly to the United Nations.

Only a few weeks after it started activities at sea, the operation has already proved its added value. I am happy to share this information with you. This operation has been sharing valuable information with the United Nations panel of experts and having a deterrent effect, including on oil smuggling and preventing some ships from participating in these illegal activities. It is critical that the Council renews the resolution authorising inspections on the high seas. It would complement the capabilities of Operation Irini and increase its added value.

Mr President,

We also know that the broader Middle East has a major impact on European and global security. We need to adopt an approach that addresses the individual conflicts and crises including Yemen and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where any unilateral action could threaten the stability in the entire region and where the European Union remains ready to work with both parties and its partners on a solution based on internationally recognised parameters.

But also one recognises the inter-related nature of the region’s conflict dynamics. Over time we should work towards a genuine regional, cooperative security framework. 

And then, it comes to Syria, where the situation in Idlib remains fragile. The ceasefire –a weak ceasefire - must continue to hold and be extended all across Syria, in line with United Nations Special Envoy Pedersen’s appeal. It is imperative that this Council renews the authorisation of cross-border humanitarian operations and deliveries into North-West Syria. I appeal to you, not to play political games with the lives of the Syrian people. Have they not suffered enough? We are ready to continue providing help to them, but for that we need renewal of the authorisation of cross-border humanitarian operations and deliveries.

We are going to hold a conference on Syria on the next 29-30 June. It will be the fourth conference on Syria and it will be an opportunity to show our continued support to the Syrian people. The humanitarian needs are enormous so we must maintain the level of pledges we had in previous years. The conference will also aim to consolidate international backing for a political solution of the crisis, in line with Security Council Resolution 2254.

Let me reiterate the enduring importance of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the so-called JCPOA - with Iran. As you know, I am the Coordinator of the Joint Commission and I am determined to do everything to ensure full and effective implementation and, in particular, Iran’s return to full compliance.

The agreement remains essential to ensure the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear programme. This is why I have to regret yesterday’s decision by the United States not to prolong the waivers for the JCPOA-related nuclear projects.

Let me finally move to Europe itself, including the Western Balkans. Our overall goal is to see the whole region advance on the path of reforms, reconciliation and integration into the European Union. I have recently appointed the former Slovak Minister for Foreign Affairs, Miroslav Lajcak, as Special Representative of the European Union to work on the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, which remains one of our top priorities.

Staying in Europe, I have to mention Ukraine, where the illegal annexation by Russia of the Crimean peninsula and the unfulfilled commitments of Minsk have brought a major disruption – I am sorry to say that - in European Union-Russia relations.

Support for the national sovereignty and territorial integrity will remain key elements of the relationship between the European Union and its Eastern partners. The principles enshrined in Helsinki cannot be forgotten while working for a cooperative, more secure and cohesive European continent.

On a continent close to my heart, there is Venezuela. There, the political crisis compounded by the measures related to fight against the coronavirus, has turned into a very dire economic and humanitarian emergency, affecting the stability of the whole region. 

Earlier this week, we mobilised €2.5 billion with almost €600 million of grants at a pledging event hosted by the European Union and Spain to step up emergency assistance, including to the displaced population in the neighbourhood countries of the region.

Finally, and turning to very recent developments that I cannot avoid referring to, I must express deep concern with steps taken by China regarding National Security Legislation in Hong Kong. We believe that this is not in conformity with international commitments, nor with the Hong Kong basic law.

Mr President,

There are many other specific situations around the world I could mention, but allow me to close with some wider, more strategic, reflections.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the fragilities of a hyper-globalised and interdependent world.

We must learn the wider lessons and take seriously how human health and planetary health are linked -and how existing inequalities are making us more vulnerable.


If we want to “build back better” – as Secretary General Guterres has asked - we must recommit to the Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement on climate change. We, here at the European Union, are trying to do our part – and we count on others to meet their obligations too. Because we know that, for example on climate change, to do our part will not be enough.


We also know that climate change is affecting security around the world, acting as a threat multiplier and catalyser of other crisis. That is why we fully support Germany’s efforts to put this climate and security nexus on the agenda of the Security Council.


My main message today to all of you is that the European Union remains deeply attached to the rules-based international order, to multilateralism and to the United Nations.


We support the United Nations, not only with words, not only with money, both matter, but we need also to develop concrete actions and contributions across the three pillars of the United Nations - and especially on peace and security.

Precisely because we believe in multilateralism, we want the Security Council to be able to act. All states should uphold the founding values of the United Nations, starting from those bearing the special responsibilities of Security Council membership.

Multilateralism must deliver results for the people who need it. Otherwise, it loses legitimacy, while unilateralism and power politics gain the upper hand.

I am strongly convinced that the world needs a revitalised multilateral system, because unilateralism is just the law of the strongest. But this will only happen if we all invest in it. We are trying to do so, we count on those who sit on the Security Council to do also their part.

I really thank you for having [given me] the opportunity of addressing these sincere words hoping that now we are going to have a fruitful discussion.

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Xavier Cifre Quatresols
Press Officer for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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