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Diplomacy, migration and the UN: the voice of Ambassador Mayr-Harting

Interview of the ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting (Promotion Karl Renner) by Cécilia Vidotto (EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies – Manuel Marín Promotion)

Thomas Mayr-Harting is an Austrian diplomat, former Head of the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations in New York and current Managing Director for Europe and Central Asia in the EEAS since November 2015.

Cécilia Vidotto (CV): In the course of your career you worked for the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and for the EEAS. To what extent European interests differ from national interests?

H.E. Thomas Mayr-Harting (TMH): Normally, the EU's interests should not "differ" from the collective interests of its Member States. In areas where the EU represents the Union as a whole or where the EU and its Member States have shared competences, the EU's position should reflect the common European interest. EU and Member States diplomats should work towards this goal in a spirit of mutual solidarity.

This being said, the perspective will of course vary, depending on whether you are involved in these processes for the EU or for a Member State, but national diplomats from smaller or medium-sized EU countries are usually the first to understand that their countries are better off if they can get the EU to speak with one voice on matters of core concern, even if this requires making some compromises. In this sense, diplomats working for the EU or for a Member State face a comparable challenge: the need to defend their own side's interests, while also being able to understand those of others - with the ultimate goal of arriving at a common position.

CV: The Global Compact for Migration is expected to be the first agreement to cover all dimensions on international migration. What is the EU’s position on the matter and who is negotiating on its behalf? In 2016 the EU decided to negotiate as a block but on the 1st of November Austria decided to follow Hungary out of the negotiation table and Czech Republic is probably going to choose the same path. Why are those countries withdrawing even if the agreement is non binding and what will be its future?

TMH: Migration is a global phenomenon that demands a global response. Migration can provide opportunities for all only if it is safe, orderly and regular, but not even the most powerful country is capable of managing migration on its own. For these reasons, the European Union has been a staunch supporter of the process for a Global Compact on Migration and this is precisely one of the areas where the EU should be able to speak with one voice.

H.E. Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting

When Hungary decided it was not able to support a common EU position during the negotiations on the Global Compact earlier this year and the EU institution were therefore no longer in a position to speak for the EU as a whole, Austria stepped in and agreed to engage in the negotiations on the Compact on behalf of the remaining 27 EU members. The Austrians - who hold the rotating EU presidency during this semester - thus played a very constructive key role in the final phase of this process.

This is why I find Austria's decision to now also withdraw from the Compact difficult to understand. Obviously, global documents of this kind always contain compromise language and are therefore never fully satisfactory in all points to each and every party. But you are right in underlining that this is not a binding agreement. I would have expected that Austria as a country so closely involved in these negotiations (and as the rotating EU presidency) ought to be able to support the outcome and express its remaining concerns by means of an "explanation of vote", an instrument developed precisely for this kind of situation, as I also explained in my compact seminar.

CV: Do you believe that the nuclear deal with Iran will survive despite the re-imposition of American sanctions ? Do you think the special purpose vehicle created to shield European companies doing business with Iran will succeed in its purpose? In your opinion, what would be the most plausible outcome if the JCPOA were to collapse?

TMH: As High Representative Federica Mogherini and the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and the UK recalled in a joint statement just a few days ago, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) is a key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture and of multilateral diplomacy, endorsed unanimously by the UN Security Council. The JCPoA is working. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed in twelve consecutive reports that Iran is abiding by its commitments. The JCPoA also provides for the lifting of international sanctions in order to have a positive impact on trade and economic relations with Iran, but most importantly on the lives of the Iranian people.

It is the EU's aim to protect European economic operators engaged in legitimate business with Iran, in accordance with EU and international law, in particular through the establishment of the "Special Purpose Vehicle" you mention. The EU is firmly resolved to complete this work. Maintaining the JCPoA is crucial for the security of Europe, the region, and the world.

The more, the merrier - Issue n. 2, 9 November 2018


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