Whether the EU has a permanent seat on the UN security council has been a hot issue for some time now, with fears that the EU constitution would pave the way for this development.
But it could be that the threat here comes not from the constitution, per se, but from the UN itself, which is looking hard at restructuring the security council to include regional representatives from all the major regions in the world. This would mean that the EU would automatically become a member, and if it acquired its own legal identity through the constitution, it could then represent all 25 member states of the EU.
That, according to Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini – speaking yesterday to the foreign committee of his parliament - is being considered by a panel of experts set up by Kofi Annan, which has suggested that the council could be expanded from 21 to 25 members to include a group of permanent regional representatives with a veto chosen by rotation among the largest states in the region.
Frattini himself is in favour of an EU seat on the security council, even though he is aware that there are partners who "don't even want to hear talk of an EU seat" because "it would cause conflicts in Europe whilst the constitution is yet to be approved". Hence, it appears that those "partners" wish discussion to be suppressed until the constitution is ratified.
That is certainly the case with the current Labour government, with Denis MacShame who, as late as 24 June this year was writing to The Independent to state that:
The UK will retain its permanent seat on the UN Security Council. There will be no EU seat; the EU is not and cannot be a member of the UN or take our seat on the Security Council. The EU constitution cannot override the UN charter, which allows only states to be members of the Security Council, and nor would we wish it to.However, despite MacShame’s careful choice of words, he does not rule out the possibility of the UN itself – through its members – changing its own charter, to allow regional members of the security council, in addition to the current members.
Nevertheless, Frattini sees problems in the UN approach as different regional structures, such as the African Union and the Organisation of American States, have different integration levels. Thus, he does not believe that an EU seat is a realistic prospect in the near future.
However, as Frattini clearly demonstrates, the idea is very much on the agenda, and is being pursued through the United Nations. Therefore, although we need to keep an eye on developments inspired by the EU constitution, when it comes to the real threat, we may be looking in the wrong direction.