The United Nations General Assembly has gathered world leaders to one of the world’s most powerful platforms for the 75th time this month. Together with the European Union, the UN is the greatest peace project of all time, and its significance as a unifying force should not be underestimated in times of such global uncertainty.
Leading liberals across Europe have been reacting to this important milestone in the organisation’s history, highlighting the key role the UN plays in the fight against protectionism, discrimination and injustice – not forgetting the fight against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
ALDE Party President Hans van Baalen commented:
“In times of crisis, we need strong multilateral cooperation where countries work on common solutions. 75 years of constructive cooperation and dialogue proves the importance of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, which serves as the platform to discuss social issues, economy, education, military and civil cooperation, and much more. The ongoing health crisis is a challenge, but at this crucial moment, we must do our best to find solutions to counter deteriorating economies and living conditions. Cooperation between member countries, industries and social organisations is necessary if we want to rebuild and reboot our societies, just as we did after the World War II. These are the moments where the United Nations and its member states play a vital role to serve its citizens.”
In his speech on 21 September, European Council President Charles Michel reflected on the past as well as the future of the UN, drawing a parallel between the goals and ambitions of both the EU and the UN:
“As a citizen, of course, but also as a political leader, I strongly believe that intelligence and empathy, both individual and collective, together constitute the driving force of progress. Freedom and respect are its renewable energy sources. And this is, in fact, the lesson of the last 75 years. Since the signing of the Charter of the United Nations, each time that cooperation, exchange and tolerance have been put into practice, the conditions of life have improved.”
Liberal Prime Ministers Andrej Babiš (Czech Republic), Xavier Bettel (Luxembourg), Micheál Martin (Ireland), Mark Rutte (The Netherlands) and Sophie Wilmès (Belgium) also delivered their addresses at the UN General Assembly.
In his speech, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Andrej Babiš reflected on the past, present and future:
“Today we are facing an extraordinary pandemic situation, which has become a stress test for our ability to cooperate and coordinate in a multilateral manner. It is exactly at times of such challenges that we need to be able to reach a high degree of mutual understanding. […] It is clear that a substantial reform is necessary. That is why I see the current health crisis as an opportunity - an opportunity to put forward an ambitious reform that will allow us to build back better.”
Prime Minister of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel highlighted the scale of the ongoing health challenge and underlined the importance of working together, noting:
“We will not forget 2020 in a hurry – what a year it has been! […] All of us, citizens of the world, are in this crisis together, and only together will we be able to come out of it. We are faced with a planet-scale emergency.”
During her speech, Prime Minister of Belgium Sophie Wilmès stated that while the world is facing many challenges, confidence, responsibility and commitment are needed to build effective mutual aid and cooperation between countries:
“In the face of these global challenges, we must act and admit that we cannot do it alone. […] We have no other choice but to join forces, even if it means rethinking the obvious or even changing our paradigms. But always in accordance with the principles of the Charter. Multilateralism does not work in essence; it works because there is a common will to make it work.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte reminded that cooperation between all countries is needed to tackle protectionist trends, which have only gained strength with the coronavirus crisis. Taking responsibility, having common interests, and pushing for reform of global institutions are the keys to tackle the challenges of today, he said, noting:
“Existing problems have been magnified by the pandemic. And this has forced us to face facts: in times of crisis we have to work together. Look out for each other. Support one another.”
Taoiseach of Ireland Micheál Martin urged the world leaders to pursue a multilateral approach to tackle the pandemic and other global challenges:
“The pandemic reminds us that multilateral responses to global challenges remain essential. In an interconnected and interdependent world, even the strongest cannot succeed alone.”
While a lot has been achieved in the past 75 years, liberals also believe that it is time for Europe to have a stronger, single voice in the United Nations. This could be achieved by establishing a European seat in the UN Security Council, by giving the EU High Representative full and equal speaking rights in the UN General Assembly and by having zero tolerance to undemocratic processes, breaches of rule of law and violation of human rights.