IL CRISTALLO 25 agosto 2020 - light edition

  torna al sommario                                                                             pubblicazione seguente        pubblicazione precedente

The COVID 19 crisis has shown to everybody the dramatic discrepancy between the scale of the current transnational challenges (public health, climate change, security, financial stability, extreme poverty, sustainable development, terrorism…) and the weakness of global governance. This gap was visible even before the Covid-19 crisis but became evident in 2020. Defending the past multilateral legacy, while implementing some managerial adjustments, is no longer a serious option. That is why this unprecedented crisis should be the opportunity for a large mobilization of social and political actors, experts, states and regional entities for a “new multilateralism”.

Progressive forces fight for a realistic reform. We are aware of the vast and diverse convergence of adversaries and obstacles which hamper this political priority.

Firstly, nationalism is coming back in its worst forms, against both social and natural science showing the transnational characteristics of common challenges. The national civic feeling of common belonging has shown during the pandemic as a powerful resource not against but in favor of multilateral cooperation. Nation is compatible with multilateralism, provided that inward looking, exclusive and aggressive nationalism is fought and defeated.

Secondly, the General Secretary Guterres dynamic program is jeopardized by the coming back of power politics of major players, including the country which mainly supported the UN foundation in 1945.

Thirdly, there is an unprecedented confusion and disarray regarding the way out of UN crisis: on the one hand, managerial and minimal adjustments are proposed by actors defending status quo and power logic; on the other, an explosion of utopian dreams is emerging again and again, fostering a radically new UN, based on a new Treaty. We must be very clear: the challenge of a courageous and effective UN reform is neither about cosmetics, nor about dreaming. The multiplication of wonderful designs and utopias maybe be worse than useless, counterproductive, because emphasizing the opposition between perfect ideal constructions and the current reality, only provokes resignation, whereas what we need is the largest mobilization and commitment for gradual, concrete and feasible reforms. Everybody must be aware that the current five permanent members of the UNSC are divided about almost everything with a single exception: they are ready, with the sole possible exception of France, to veto any Treaty reform. [1].

That is why progressive forces must rely on already existing dynamic trends which are clearly going beyond the mere continuity with the past and addressing with courage the UN efficiency gaps and also, by new ways of parliamentary and citizens participation, its current representation- and legitimacy- deficits.

How could radical innovations in the main policy fields, from public health by reforming the weak WHO, to security, peace, sustainable development, trade and human rights protection, gender balance? Crucial will be the reformers capacity of detailing not only what to do, but firstly, how to improve efficiency and legitimacy. Reforms of the modes of governance must be the main objective, affecting the UN institutions and their decision-making process.

As multilateral governance is concerned a strong idea must be asserted by the EU as a priority, looking for the necessary alliances and convergences: the enhanced role to be played by democratic regional organizations as a multilevel complement to the needed UN institutional central coordination. Contrary to 1945, regional organizations, like the EU, ASEAN, the African Union, MERCOSUR, among others, already represent a new consolidated multidimensional reality in every continent. Regions combine decentralization of the UN system with power-politics containment; may limit nationalism while offering a third way between Western-centric universalism and relativism. Even without a San Francisco Charter reform, they can be recognized and supported by the UN system, through their inclusion within the decision making process. Boutros-Ghali and Annan started this profound change of the early unbalance between the regional and the global level of the multilateral governance system: their endeavors may eventually be finalized by the innovative Antonio Guterres leadership, supported by political will, competent expertise, detailed scrutiny or regional organizations and courageous measures.

The second urgently needed reform is for more binding modes of governance. This could be consensually achieved along the lines of two examples, coping with the scandalous policy-implementation gap combined with respect of national diversities: the ‘’Open method of coordination’ and the ‘COP 21 review methods’, both ensuring enhanced monitoring of the follow-up by member states.

The EU is expected by many actors in all continents to play a driving role by reviving and strengthening the multilateral system. Why? Because, beyond both eurocentrism and euroskepticism, the destiny of the EU itself, as the most sophisticated regional multilateral entity, is existentially linked to the one of a new multilevel multilateralism.


[1]   According to Article 108, amendments must be adopted by 2/3 of the members of the General Assembly and ratified by 2/3 of the members of the United Nations, including all the 5 permanent members of the Security Council.



Mario Telò is Professor of International relations and “J. Monnet Chair”, at ULB, Bruxelles, LUISS-Rome, Macau and CFAU-China and FGV-Rio. Emeritus President of the IEE -ULB, he served as consultant for the EU Commission, the Presidency of the European Council and Parliament .He leads the PhD program GEM (“Globalization Europe multilateralism”), including 12 universities of 5 continents and 60 PhD students. Telò published books and scientific articles. Among them: Europe. A Civilian Power?, 2005; EU and New Regionalism, (2001), International Relations. A European Perspective, Foreword by R.O.Keohane, 2009, , Deepening the EU-China partnership, 2018, La place de l’UE dans le monde du 21ième siècle, 2018 and Regionalism and multilateralism, 2020.


  torna al sommario                                                                             pubblicazione seguente        pubblicazione precedente