top of page

A Voice Among The Nations

What Ireland’s UN Security Council Bid Means for the Future of the EU’s Multilateral Identity.

“From an EU perspective, Irish values are European values, and European values remain the bulwark of the rules-based order we hold dear.”

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and former European Council President Donald Tusk in New York for the 74th UN General Assembly.

It’s that time of year again. Whistle-stop tours, bilaterals, multilaterals, statecraft and savoir-faire. The United Nations General Assembly is preparing to elect two new rotating members to the Security Council. In the running are Canada, Norway and Ireland. As the race enters its final months, all three are pulling out all the stops in one final push to secure the support of as many states as possible.

Around the world, each candidate’s diplomatic footprint is visible. In early February, Prime Ministers Trudeau and Solberg of Canada and Norway were greeted within hours of each other at a recent African Union summit in Addis Ababa. More recently, representatives from Canada made their way to Bridgetown, Barbados in an attempt to woo members of the 15 state-strong CARICOM bloc of nations. Their efforts may nevertheless have been in vain, for it seems one country is a step ahead of the game. “The Irish have been around in our region quite a long time, and the Irish people have been investing in the region” remarks Vincentian Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.

Similar sentiments seem to ring true in small state foreign ministries across the globe, and this may well prove to be the deciding factor come voting time. Make no mistake, a concerted effort has been underway in Dublin for quite some time now for Ireland to regain a seat at the Security Council, a position they have not held since 2002. The Irish candidacy has transpired to be a watershed moment in Brussels. At a time when multilateral values are under fire, the European Union finds itself in need of its member states to stand up for its ideals and identity on the international stage more than ever.

The EU has long drawn strength from the clout of its representation at the UN Security Council. At the turn of the decade, five of the fifteen members were members of the EU. Given the fact that the United Kingdom withdrew from the EU in January and that the tenures of Belgium, Germany and Estonia are only temporary, should Ireland fail to take one of the two seats on offer, the EU faces the prospect of having just one member left at the table by 2022 - France.

The critique has often been levied against the EU that it has for too long been overrepresented at global multilateral fora and that the time has come for them to pass on the torch. The EEAS Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore, believes however that the race will not be won on who you represent, but rather on what you represent. The crux of the Irish campaign goes beyond strategic interests. Their manifesto is very much value laden, underscoring the state’s belief in partnership, empathy and independence.

“Ireland’s own foreign policy is very compatible with the values and multilateral character of the EU approach” says Gilmore. From an EU perspective, Irish values are European values, and European values remain the bulwark of the rules-based order we hold dear. Irish foreign policy rebukes the rise of unilateralism. It instead favours common solutions to global problems. To that end, Ireland holds the record for the longest unbroken UN peacekeeping participation, not only in Europe, but in the world. Ireland’s history of conflict lends it an empathy to those who pursue peace, the bedrock of the European idea, and raison d’être of the UN.

Irish President Michael D. Higgins addressing the UN General Assembly.

It makes sense that Ireland should be the EU’s standard bearer at this time. Ireland is uniquely positioned to be bridge-builder and consensus-finder between the EU’s Security Council members and other states. Irish Ambassador to the UN and former Chair of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, Geraldine Byrne Nason has made a particular effort to position Ireland as an ally to fellow small states by brandishing the country’s credentials as a Sustainable Development Goals leader, in particular, one with a proven track-record in poverty elimination efforts. In a time when we hear so much about the necessity for the EU to be more geopolitical, Ireland’s candidacy has an added significance for the EU. In the aftermath of Brexit, Anglo-Irish relations could yet prove to be a key vehicle for the EU to maintain a close partnership with the British on foreign policy matters. In addition, Ireland has long been famed for its diaspora diplomacy, no more so than in the United States. Ex-Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Mary Harney once observed that Ireland is in many ways “closer to Boston than Berlin”. This distinctive foreign policy melange of Transatlanticism and Europeanism could prove key in reconciling the tensions between the EU view and an increasingly divergent American perspective.

As more and more states shift from transnational to transactional diplomacy, the EU now finds itself in an identity crisis. Should the integrity and respect for the UN, with whom the EU shares the same multilateral DNA, be undermined, so too will the integrity of the EU and its external action. Pundits suggest that this decade will be decisive for the fate of the international rules-based order. As such, the EU’s desire to get one of their own on the Security Council represents the first of many hurdles in this battle. Nevertheless, they remain quietly confident, for they have the luck of the Irish on their side. Voting takes place this June.

Link to the official campaign video for the Irish candidature:

Written by Stephen T. Frain, March 22nd 2020


bottom of page