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The Alliance for Multilateralism: how will it contribute to UN 75?

Inaugural ministerial meeting of the Alliance for Multilateralism on 26 September 2019. Image: UN2020 Initiative

The Alliance for Multilateralism that was announced by Germany and France earlier this year was launched at a ministerial meeting during the opening session of the UN General Assembly in September.

Their website explains that the alliance “is an informal network of countries united in their conviction that a rules-based multilateral order is the only reliable guarantee for international stability and peace and that our common challenges can only be solved through cooperation.”

At the General Assembly, Germany, France and other like-minded states used the alliance to promote six initiatives

  • the “Call for Humanitarian Action” orginally launched by France and Germany in April 2019,
  • the “Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace” originally launched by France in November 2018,
  • an “International Partnership for Information and Democracy” which draws on a proposal by Reporters Without Borders and moved forward by France,
  • a “joint position” on climate and security which originates from the “Group of Friends on Climate and Security” originally established by Germany and Nauru in August 2018,
  • the “Gender at the Center Initiative” developed in collaboration with France which was endorsed by the G7 in August 2019, and
  • a call on states to support the Guiding Principles on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems as consented by the Group of Governmental Experts of the UN Weapons Convention.

These are important and valuable initiatives that deserve support. It is good that the alliance is being used to promote them, even if they primarily originate from France and Germany. This is more than just “verbal posturing” as one observer suggested. Still it is hard to resist the impression that the German and French foreign ministry officials simply amalgamated pre-existing initiatives.

Of course it should be acknowledged that the alliance is still in its infancy. The constructive response from a range of UN member states gives reason to believe that the portfolio will move beyond German-French projects. It is also encouraging that the alliance says that they will adopt a “multi-stakeholder approach” and plan to work with civil society. In terms of the future agenda, references are made to the UN’s 75th anniversary in 2020 and to the goal of “strengthening international institutions.”

Indeed, to mark its anniversary the UN has called on member states to “share their views” on the theme “The future we want, the United Nations we need: reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism.” The new High Representative of the European Union on Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, who will assume office these days said as Spanish foreign minister that 2020 may be a good moment for the UN “to analyse at a summit some institutional changes necessary to increase its legitimacy and effectiveness” including “the establishment of a parliamentary assembly, thus strengthening the role of civil society and the democratic dimension of the multilateral system.”

Whether the Alliance for Multilateralism picks up on such proposals and the opportunity of UN 75 will show whether it intends to act as an agent for progressive change, or simply a defender of the status quo of intergovernmentalism.

Andreas Bummel
Andreas Bummel is Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders and co-authored the book "A World Parliament: Governance and Democracy in the 21st Century"