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United on the need for UN reform

In today's globalized, interdependent world, we are facing a wide array of threats and challenges: international terrorism, poverty, wars, insecurity and underdevelopment. Individual states can't address such major problems alone. The key lies in the collective leadership that only an effective multilateral system can provide.

Italy has always been a strong advocate of investing the United Nations with that leadership role. We share this approach with Canada: Our bilateral co-operation at the UN, and in other international forums, is excellent.

Italy shows its support for the UN by being the sixth-largest contributor to the UN budget and a top contributor of troops to peacekeeping operations over the past 10 years. And Italy helped lead the fight against poverty and debt relief, and in the launch of the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS at the G8 Summit in Genoa in 2001.

Our firm belief in multilateralism is grounded in a simple assumption: To be credible, multilateralism has to be effective. We must therefore make it our shared priority to reinvigorate the United Nations and give it the tools it needs to tackle today's challenges.

The starting point for UN reform is a review of the organization's policies. Here, Italy believes that consensus, inclusiveness and cohesion are indispensable components of successful multilateral policies. The search for unanimity may be cumbersome, but it's no excuse for inaction or decisions that would harm the majority of UN member countries, and undermine the principles on which the international system is built.

A cautious approach should guide us in the reform of UN institutions. This is particularly true for the reform of the UN Security Council, which is being studied (among other sensitive issues) by the Panel of Eminent Personalities appointed by the Secretary-General.

As the executive arm of the United Nations, the Security Council holds, in the language of the charter, "primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security." Moreover, all UN members must accept and carry out council decisions.

This is why we cannot afford decisions that divide the membership and cause frustrations. Italy believes that the Security Council should be reformed so as to be more inclusive, reflect geographic diversity in its membership, and exercise true leadership.

Some countries claim that the best way to achieve reform is by establishing new permanent members. We disagree. Such a development would only widen divisions within the international community, while new permanent members would make it harder to reach effective, timely decisions.

So far, we have been unable to agree on Security Council reform that reconciles the different approaches. This impasse should prompt us to look for less divisive solutions -- for example, the creation of new, non-permanent seats. Since the states that serve on these seats would have to be periodically elected, they would be accountable to the general membership. We could even contemplate more frequent rotation for countries that make a larger UN contribution.

We share many of these views with Canada. As G8 members, we are keen on further developing the foreign-policy dimension of the G8 work. At the same time, Italy stands ready to contribute even more to the Security Council, which has the unique power to provide legitimacy to the use of force in international relations.

We have to be aware that, should new permanent members on the Security Council be established, the role of our two countries would be downsized in the G8. We must also bear in mind the growing importance of regional organizations. The European Union is only one example of how groups of states have changed the map of international politics. Increasingly, the EU is speaking with a single voice within the UN system and will continue to do so. Yet the UN, particularly the Security Council, does not give sufficient representation to regional organizations, which deserve serious consideration in the reform process.

The UN is at the very heart of the international system. If forced to choose between the satisfaction of the few and the inclusion of the many, the wrong choice is a luxury that the UN cannot afford.

Franco Frattini is Italy's Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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