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Role of the EU in the multilateral system of the UN

Role of the EU in the multilateral system of the UN



Article 21 of the Treaty on European Union


It sets out the principles guiding EU action internationally. These include promoting:

  • democracy, rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and respect for the principles of the United Nations (UN) Charter and international law;
  • an international system based on stronger multilateral cooperation and good global governance;
  • multilateral solutions to common problems through the UN.


EU participation in the UN system

  • The EU has the status of enhanced observer at the UN.
    • the EU has the right to speak among representatives of major groups and to present proposals and amendments orally (a possibility that no other observer has at its disposal), and the right of reply once to an intervention regarding an EU position. However, the EU cannot co-sponsor draft resolutions or decisions, does not have the right to vote or to put forward candidates.
  • The partnership between the EU and the UN is based on political and operational cooperation for the completion of joint programmes and projects.
  • The principle areas of cooperation are:
    • maintaining global peace and security in the world — through a full partnership ranging from conflict prevention to reconstruction and peacebuilding. The EU’s contribution takes the form of human and financial resources. In addition, the EU’s common foreign and security policy allows an increase in civil and military cooperation;
    • promoting human rights, gender equality and democracy — by defending standards and mechanisms for the protection of human rights, within the UN and through bilateral cooperation;
    • human, economic and social development — particularly by coordinating action in the field of development assistance and humanitarian aid;
    • environmental protection and climate change — particularly for the adoption of agreements and international conventions, and for the reform of international environmental governance;
    • humanitarian assistance and food aid — in particular through aid from the EU, which is the largest sponsor of operations undertaken worldwide;
    • fight against international and regional threats to security — such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and small arms and light weapons, organised crime, drug trafficking and money laundering.
  • The EU presents its priorities for the UN General Assembly annually. These guide the EU delegation’s work.
  • The EU and the EU countries combined are the single largest contributor to the UN system.

Promoting multilaterlism

  • As part of the EU’s 2016 Global Strategy, the EU will promote a rules-based global order with multilateralism as its key principle and the UN at its core with international and regional organisations, states and non-state actors.
  • The EU has enhanced its partnership with the UN and increased its influence based on guidelines and recommendations set out by the Commission in 2003.


For more information:


Consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union —Title V — General provisions on the Union’s external action and specific provisions on the common foreign and security policy — Chapter 1 — General provisions on the Union’s external action — Article 21 (OJ C 202, 7.6.2016, pp. 28-29)

last update 20.03.2020