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May 3, 2016

The EU and the UN: Bringing a U.S. Persepective

by Susan Delson

UN starsThe United Nations is an international organization whose members are sovereign states. The same is true of the European Union. But the European Union is not a sovereign state, and does not have member status at the United Nations. So how does the EU, which has become a high-profile global actor in its own right, function at the UN?

That question is a primary focus for Katie V. Laatikainen, Ph.D., professor of political science and international studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. While there are many U.S. scholars examining the UN and UN multilateralism, Dr. Laatikainen noted, and others studying the EU, she is one of a relatively small number—“probably only a handful,” she estimated—who focus on the intersection of the EU and the UN.

That focus has made Dr. Laatikainen a sought-after collaborator for Europe-based scholars, who have valued her unique perspective as well as her geographic positioning. “It makes a real difference that I’m here in New York, that I have access to the United Nations and have a good relationship with the EU delegation here,” she said, adding, “I provide a linchpin between U.S. scholars who focus on the UN and EU scholars who look at EU foreign policy.”

One of Dr. Laatikainen’s most recent international collaborations is also among the most complex: The Sage Handbook of European Foreign Policy, (Sage Publishing, 2015). Roughly four years in the making, the Handbook is a panoramic, close-to-comprehensive examination of the EU’s activities in the foreign-policy arena. Four of the book’s five editors were European; Dr. Laatikainen was the only American

Editorially, her brief centered on the EU’s bilateral and multilateral relations, and she wrote a chapter on the EU’s relations with the UN. That was also the topic of a chapter she contributed to The European External Action Service: European Diplomacy Post-Westphalia, another book published last year—specifically, how the EU has navigated the downgrading of its UN status after the 2009 Lisbon Treaty. 

Before the treaty, EU member states took turns representing the EU at the UN, Dr. Laatikainen explained, so that the EU was represented by actors that had full member status and privileges. Since the Lisbon Treaty was enacted, the EU has been represented by the EU delegation which has only observer status, somewhat similar to the Palestinians or the Holy See. As a result, the EU has had to adjust to a lesser official status within the UN, said Dr. Laatikainen. Paradoxically, as its formal status in the UN has become more circumscribed, the EU’s engagement with foreign policy has increased.

While the European migrant crisis is not a substantive focus of her work, Dr. Laatikainen has been following it closely. She sees it as part of an overall trend of sovereign member states reasserting themselves within EU “domestic” and foreign policy, and turbulence in the EU project as a whole. “It’s endlessly fascinating trying to figure out: Is the EU moving toward a greater level of integration or breakup?” she pondered. “Politics in general is moving in interesting ways in the 21st century, and the European experience adds to a diversity of understanding in the ways in which politics is changing and evolving.”

This article was published in the 2016 issue of Erudition magazine

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