top of page

Updated on 11 March 2019

Chapter 3:   THE PEOPLE

Section 1:   The President


Unprecedented “twinned” Council presidencies of France and Germany portend risks and rewards


Because of the alphabetical rotation of Security Council presidencies, those of France and Germany occur sequentially in March and April 2019.  Taking advantage of this coincidence, the two Council members decided upon a “jumelage” or “twinning” of their presidencies.  It is the express hope of both France (a permanent member) and Germany (an elected member) that this coordination will be the means for making greater progress with respect to both substantive issues before the Security Council and its working methods.


The two Council members are not embarking upon a joint presidency, that is, an arrangement that would empower each delegation to fulfil all the functions of the Security Council President during both March and April 2019.  In fact, such empowerment would not be possible without a decision by the Security Council as a whole to suspend its Rule 18.[1]  This Rule provides that


“The presidency of the Security Council shall be held in turn by the members of the Security Council in the English alphabetical order of their names.  Each President shall hold office for one calendar month.”


By “twinning” the March and April 2019 presidencies, France and Germany are giving concrete expression to the Treaty of Aachen/Aix-la-Chapelle signed by the two governments on 22 January 2019.  The treaty has, as one of its aims, the convergence of French and German positions within international bodies.


In practical terms, the “jumelage” is, inter alia, taking these forms:


  • March and April monthly programmes of work were presented to the other Council members for discussion in tandem.  Both programmes were posted on the Security Council webpage on 1 March (together with both national flags), although only the March programme was officially adopted by the Council as at that date.​


  • A single, joint briefing on both work programmes for the successive presidencies given by the two permanent representatives to the wider UN membership on 1 March, and another to the press on the same date. 


  • A single permanent representatives’ breakfast, for purposes of reviewing together the March and April work programmes, was held on 1 March; subsequently, only a political coordinators meeting was to be held on 1 April to confirm that month's work programme. 


  • One of the most prominent embodiments of the conjoined presidencies will be the participation of both Foreign Ministers in Security Council proceedings spanning the last week of March and the first week of April.


The two delegations have cited three transcending goals as motivating the conjoining of their March and April presidencies:  1) to re-galvanize the Franco-German partnership at the United Nations; 2) to contribute to voicing a strong European perspective at the UN; and 3) to defend and uphold multilateralism.


In terms of substance, the two delegations intend to highlight four “themed” priorities and one country- and region-specific priority during their twinned presidencies:


1.  The role of women in conflict situations, with a focus on their protection and their empowerment.  This effort would begin with an “Arria-formula” meeting on the participation of women in political processes convened jointly by France and Germany in March (during the French presidency).  It would be augmented in April (during the German presidency) through two open debates – one on women in UN peacekeeping and another on sexual violence in conflict.  A special event was also envisaged to encourage the UN membership to propose clear priorities for the upcoming 20th anniversary of the landmark resolution 1325 (2000).


2.  Strengthening international humanitarian law and the protection of international humanitarian personnel.  This issue will notably be addressed through two events to take place on 1 April, first an "Arria-formula" meeting hosted by France on protecting humanitarian and medical personnel, and then a Security Council meeting convened under the German Council presidency, with the participation of both Foreign Ministers, on promoting international humanitarian law.


3.  Combating the financing of terrorism.  This will be the topic of an open debate which will take place on 28 March, also with both Foreign Ministers present.  In addition, France is drafting a related resolution.


4.  Support for disarmament.  The key event on this topic during the joint presidencies will be a briefing, on 2 April, on supporting the Non-Proliferation Treaty ahead of the 2020 Review Conference, again with the participation of both Foreign Ministers,.


5.  Mali and the Joint Force of the G5 Sahel.  Five interrelated facets of the Council’s work will be undertaken in March and April in order to focus on Mali and the Sahel.  On 20 March, the Council members were to hold an informal interactive dialogue on this country- and region-specific priority with the Peacebuilding Commission.  Shortly thereafter, the Council members would depart on a mission, jointly led by France and Germany together with Cote d'Ivoire, to Mali and Burkina Faso.  The co-leads would report on the mission during a briefing on 27 March, followed by a meeting on the subject of Mali on 29 March, with the participation of the Prime Minister of Mali, the Secretary-General, and the French and German Foreign Ministers. Then in early April, a presidential statement on Mali drafted by France was expected to be adopted. 

In total, the twinned presidencies will include four open debates and five thematic briefings.  In addition to the three open debates mentioned above, the quarterly Middle East open debate will fall during the April presidency.  Besides the two thematic briefings already described, two briefings were scheduled for March which would highlight a European perspective, the first by the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and the second by the Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.  In April, the Council would hear a briefing by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the first such briefing since 2017.


Much of the remainder of both the March and April work programmes is the outcome of previous Council decisions setting the durations of mandates or requesting reports from the Secretary-General.  In terms of penholding relating to mandates, during the twinned presidencies, France will serve as the principal penholder only for the extension of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).  In addition, however, as mentioned above, France will be tabling a resolution on the financing of terrorism.  Germany is co-penholder with Indonesia for the resolution extending the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which will expire in March.  The German representative also serves as Chair of the Council’s resolution 1718 (2006) Committee on the DPRK, for which the Panel of Experts’ mandate renewal will be on the April calendar.


In connection with Security Council decisions, at the joint press conference, the French representative conceded that the Council tends to “vote and forget”.  Consequently, it would be a goal of the twinned presidencies to encourage members to focus more as a Council on implementing their decisions.


The representative of France, also during the press conference, affirmed that it was important not to be blasé about the Council’s working methods, but rather to breathe new life into them.  The twinned presidencies offer the opportunity to combine a P5 and an E10 perspective on how these can be improved.  Rather than confronting directly the “hot topic” of a more equitable distribution of labour, the French and German delegations will focus in March and April primarily on improving the Council members’ interactivity and on fostering more efficient use of the Council’s limited available time. 


Regarding interactivity, at the press conference and in subsequent tweets, the two delegations have expressed their intention to promote several modalities.  Throughout March and April, they intend to encourage Council members and invited briefers to engage more with each other, both in open meetings and during closed consultations.  To this end, all speakers will be encouraged to comply with agreed time limits for their statements, so as to allow sufficient time for back-and-forth discussion.  Members are encouraged to ask questions of briefers and in parallel, briefers are encouraged to distribute their talking points in advance, to facilitate greater preparation by Council members.  Both France and Germany intend also to make use of the “two-finger” rule to encourage greater interactivity during closed consultations and in formal meetings.  Under this unwritten practice, a Council member may raise two fingers to ask for the floor if they wish to respond immediately to what has just been said, even if that member is not next on the speakers list.


These various modalities are in keeping with the comprehensive presidential note S/2017/507, which provides that


“48. . . .  The members of the Security Council encourage the President to facilitate interaction by inviting any participant in the consultations to speak at any time, irrespective of the order of the prescribed speakers’ list, when the discussion requires it.  


49. The members of the Security Council encourage speakers to direct their questions not only to the Secretariat, but also to other members. 


50. The members of the Security Council do not discourage each other from taking the floor more than once, in the interest of making consultations more interactive. 


58. The members of the Security Council invite the Secretariat to continue its practice of circulating the briefing texts at briefings and, in particular, where their statements contain extensive or complicated factual information, encourage briefers to circulate written summaries of that information, whenever possible in advance, to allow for a more focused discussion during informal consultations.  The members of the Security Council invite the Secretariat, as a general rule, to provide a printed fact sheet, presentation materials and/or any other relevant reference materials, whenever possible, to Council members on the day prior to the informal consultations, when briefings in the Security Council consultations room are not given on the basis of a written report.”


Taking the highly visible step of twinning their presidencies carries the potential both of risks and rewards for France and Germany.  The novelty of the arrangement has already drawn increased focus to the months of March and April 2019.  The two representatives stated during their press conference that this initiative has met with a “very, very positive reaction and enthusiasm”.  At the same time, there will be a burden of proof on both delegations to demonstrate that this unprecedented arrangement has genuinely been a “multiplier” in terms of bringing added value to the Council’s functioning.


Having the span of two months, rather than one, will allow both presidencies to develop in greater depth the Council’s consideration of certain items through coordinated sequential proceedings, both formal and informal.  This will be the case particularly with the joint presidencies’ extended focus on women in conflict situations, as well as on Mali and the Sahel region.  The two-month period also gives both delegations the opportunity to more thoroughly reinforce new habits with respect to their stated goal of enhancing interactivity, if the other Council members and briefers take up their suggestions.  With a one-month presidency, it can happen that a Council President invests considerably in improving a working method, only to have it fall out of use when a subsequent presidency focuses on another working method. 


One aspect of the conjoined presidencies which may prove to be somewhat problematic is the fostering of a greater European voice within the Security Council.  While Council members, as well as the broader UN membership, are generally appreciative of the wide range of contributions made by the European Union (EU) to the work of the United Nations, at times there has also been some resentment over the disproportionate representation on the Security Council of EU members.  Currently 28 countries, including the United Kingdom, belong to the European Union, in contrast to the 55 members of the African Union.  Yet under the geographic formula adopted by the General Assembly in 1963, at any given time there are three African countries sitting on the Security Council, whereas whenever the Eastern European country elected to the Council is also an EU member (as is the present case with Poland), European Union members can make up one third of the Council.  This disproportionality was recently raised by the Russian Foreign Minister.  It was also commented upon in the General Assembly by a Russian representative on 27 February 2019, when he stated


“Everyone who keeps track of the UN SC activities can clearly see that the mechanism is misbalanced in favour of Western Countries.  In particular, one third of the Council’s members accounts for the European Union, which is basically a relatively small group of countries. . . .  It is about similar positions of the members of this union and their similar tasks to implement joint policy and speak in ‘one voice’.” 


It will therefore be a delicate matter during the twinned presidencies for France and Germany to represent coordinated European positions without appearing to be overly dominant in the Security Council. 


The joint Franco-German initiative does not present a model which could frequently be followed by subsequent presidencies.  Looking at the remainder of 2019, for example, the only back-to-back presidencies of Council members from the same UN regional group will be those of Indonesia in May and Kuwait in June.  However, while both are members of the Asia-Pacific group, they do not belong to a highly synchronized regional organization like the European Union. 


In 2020, France and Germany are again expected to have sequential Council presidencies[2] and there may be a sense of pressure on them to repeat their 2019 arrangement.  To do otherwise might seem, at least to some, to suggest that the  conjoined 2019 presidencies were not viewed as successful by the two governments.


(This update supplements pages 111-113 of the book.)


[1] Although some of the Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure addressing minor matters (such as an outmoded approval process for verbatim records) have been implicitly suspended or interpreted very broadly, Rule 18 has been carefully and consistently observed by the Security Council.  In two instances, when a deviation from Rule 18 was considered necessary, the Council members formally suspended that Rule through the adoption of presidential statements (S/PRST/1994/48 and S/PRST/1994/55).  This was in 1994, the year when genocide was taking place in Rwanda, which at that time was a Council member.  Because of diverging views as to who was entitled to represent Rwanda at the UN, the Council first suspended Rule 18 so as to bypass Rwanda’s scheduled assumption of the presidency for September 1994.  One month later, it again agreed to suspend Rule 18 so that Rwanda, by that time represented by a different delegation, could serve as Council President, out of alphabetical order, in December 1994.  In another case, an elected member had experienced inconclusive elections, such that only a caretaker government was in place as its presidency approached.  That member’s appeal for Rule 18 to be suspended until the governmental crisis had been resolved was not agreed to by the other Council members, a number of whom maintained that Rule 18 should be faithfully respected except in extreme circumstances.  

[2] The only countries which can come between France and Germany in the Council’s alphabetical rotation are Gabon, Gambia and Georgia, and none of these have announced candidacies for a 2020-21 seat on the Council.



bottom of page