Italy and Netherlands agree to share seat on UN Security Council

Symbolic deal designed as ‘a message of unity between European countries’

Dutch UN ambassador Karel van Oosterom with his Italian counterpart Sebastiano Cardi  at  UN  General Assembly  in New York last week. The states  agreed to share  seat on  UN Security Council. Photograh:  Jason Szenes/EPA

Dutch UN ambassador Karel van Oosterom with his Italian counterpart Sebastiano Cardi at UN General Assembly in New York last week. The states agreed to share seat on UN Security Council. Photograh: Jason Szenes/EPA

 

In a rare display of political co-operation largely lost in the post-Brexit melee across Europe, Italy and the Netherlands have agreed to share a coveted seat on the UN Security Council – a symbolic deal designed as “a message of unity between European countries”.

That’s not to say, of course, that if either the Dutch or the Italians could have won the non-permanent seat for themselves, they wouldn’t have taken it, and the international prestige that goes with it, for the full two-year term of 2017 and 2018.

But after intensive lobbying and five rounds of balloting by the 193-member general assembly in New York, the two were tied last Tuesday evening on 95 votes each – with no prospect on either side of achieving the two-thirds majority required for an outright win.

The security council is made up of five permanent members – the US, China, Russia, France and the UK – and 10 non-permanent members serving two-year terms, with five of the 10 changing every year.

Messy deadlock

Sweden, Bolivia, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan had already taken the other four of the five seats due to be vacated at the end of this year. The question then became how a potentially messy deadlock between Italy and the Netherlands could best be turned to everyone’s diplomatic advantage.

It’s an understatement to say the security council is not known for co-operation between its members, particularly between its five permanent members, and least of all between the US, China and Russia – each of whom jealously guards its sphere of global influence.

For decades, there have been demands for reform, particularly the abolition of the permanent members’ veto, all too often an obstructive power that has seen the body responsible for global security unable to intervene in some of the most intractable conflicts of our time.

Council failed

The worst example is Syria, where Russian support for the Assad regime led UN secretary-general, Ban Ki- moon, to admit last year that great power divisions on the council had “failed” the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who had lost their lives there.

So, minor as it may have been by comparison with the security council’s failings, it was positive at least to see these two aspirant members reach an agreement under which the Italians will hold the seat next year, and the Dutch will take over in 2018.

And while splitting is rare – the last time was over 50 years ago – it’s not unprecedented. Poland and Turkey shared in 1960 and 1961, while Czechoslovakia and Malaysia shared in 1964 and 1965.

It was, said one observer, with an eye perhaps to the tensions between London and Brussels, “a truly gentlemanly European agreement”.

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