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Interview with Italy’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Maurizio Massari


Interview with Maurizio Massari published by Pass Blue on February 14 2023

[Go to the magazine’s website for the original and full interview]



PassBlue: Intergovernmental negotiations among UN member states on UN reform originally began in 2008, and this year’s first recurring meeting got off to a tense start. Why?

Massari: I don’t think it’s the right word; positions expressed were forceful by the different negotiating groups. The Security Council, as it is, is not representative. The International reality, the balance of power, is a system where you have new powers emerging. But you have a lot of regions still underrepresented in the Council, and that is the main thing. You had the five winners of World War II, and then it was six nonpermanent members. It was expanded only once, in 1965, to total 15 elected members. Now this structure does not reflect international reality. The second factor is that a new element emerged in the Ukrainian crisis. It has demonstrated once more that the veto power has paralyzed the Council. So something needs to be done, and everybody is aware that reform is needed. But how do you make the Council more effective? And then the question that comes up is the veto. If you extend the Council to new permanent members with veto power, you will have even more veto potential. Over the last 77 years of the Council, it shows that permanent members are mostly accountable to themselves; they alone do not represent any region in its entirety or continent, so if you individually add new permanent members, you will expand the club of ‘privileged countries,’  an oligopoly, without, however, getting regions as a whole or continents better represented. So, that’s why UfC [Uniting for Consensus] came up many years ago, but we have fine-tuned this proposal. The essence is that we recognize that we need to expand the Council to regions underrepresented. That means Africa in the first place, Asia, Latin America and Caribbean states, small island developing states and small states; expand in a way that gives a chance for everyone to sit sooner or later in the Council. One-third of the UN membership has never been in the Council.  Expanding the Council will make it more accountable to the entire UN membership.

PassBlue: Can you go further into your proposal for expanding the number of elected seats and how it would be, as you say, more “democratic”?

Massari: If you become a permanent member, you don’t need to go through regular elections [an elected member must be voted on by the General Assembly], and you will become an independent entity, accountable only to yourself. That’s why we came up with the idea of expanding to a maximum of 26 seats — the exact number can be negotiated — creating up to 11 new elected seats. Most of them would not just be simple two-year terms but would have the possibility of being immediately re-elected for another term. We are discussing in our group how many more years it could be — three or four — by possibly being re-elected once. This is something that needs to be detailed when we get to a more mature stage of negotiations. In theory, an elected member could stay continuously for four, six or eight years but go through elections [in the Assembly]. So if you are a medium-sized power with significant responsibilities in peace and security, as Article 23 of the UN Charter stipulates, you could in theory stay longer in the Council. In fact, our proposal attributes up to 11 extra seats to regions. We don’t name a specific country. It must be seen how the different regional groups will elect the countries. The main thing is that we talk about regions, not individual claims.

PassBlue: The African Union wants six additional permanent seats with veto power: Brazil, India, Japan and Germany, plus two for the continent. How would this proposal compete with Uniting for Consensus?

Massari: The main competing idea is the default because these (G4) are claims by countries that think they are individually entitled to get a permanent seat. The African Union is not competing [with our proposal]. There are synergies and common points between the African Union proposition and ours. First, we say that the region, more than any other, has legitimate claim to be better represented. With our proposal, Africa would double its presence. The African method of regional selection is interesting and could be applied to other regions. We differ on the question of the veto and the permanent membership because of the reasons I have said: the veto is very difficult to sell today to the public. Once you become permanent, you no longer need to be elected. You are no longer accountable to the broad membership of the United Nations. Uniting for Consensus is interested in having reform soon. Sometimes we are accused of wanting to slow down reform, that we are for the status quo; not at all. What we are proposing is a realistic way to reform the Council that could be done rapidly, if there is willingness among other member states to negotiate concretely.

PassBlue: How soon are you talking about moving from negotiations to holding a vote in the General Assembly on your proposal?

Massari: It’s difficult to quantify the time but if we agree on a model, the win-win model, we can proceed realistically in not too long of a period. What is important is convergence on the model.

PassBlue: How do you think the permanent members will react? Obviously, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield is doing her own canvassing based on what President Biden proposed in September 2022.

Massari: The P5 tend not to keep a high profile on this issue. But I can only say that it’s important that they are well engaged with the membership and some of them are doing that. But the US engagement is superimportant.

PassBlue: How do you envision your proposal playing out it in terms of members voting on a draft resolution, say, in the Council? It seems like the more numbers the more complicated things could get in approving a resolution through 26 members. Plus think of the long meetings of speeches!

Massari: You would need a simple majority, so 16 votes with no vetoes, if the total is 26. You can envisage it in the Council working methods enhancing the voice and the role of the elected members.

PassBlue: Let’s use the African Union as a model of how this would roll out. The regional seats would be decided on within the regions, as they are done now, more or less, before they are put to a final vote in the General Assembly. How would this unfold when African nations take their seats in the expanded Council?

Massari: Our proposal would assign the majority of new seats to Africa and Asia-Pacific; extra seats also to Latin America and SIDS [small island developing states]; only one more seat to the Western European and Others Group because we think that Western countries are already overrepresented; and one more for the Eastern European group. So we don’t indicate any name of country that must come from Africa. We don’t say Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt. The same is for Latin America, for Asia. This is important because it gives regional ownership.

PassBlue: Let’s say in the heat of the moment, in light of the anniversary of Russia’s full assault on Ukraine, on Feb. 24, you put this in a draft resolution and submit it to the General Assembly. Would you get the two-thirds vote for approval?

Massari: We are not there yet for even negotiating a text. We first need to create a consensus on the end game of reform. Tomorrow is not a realistic perspective, and we need to be patient in these negotiations. Everybody is important. The P5 are very important, and the emerging powers are important, the middle-size powers are important, as well as the small states.

PassBlue: While you have negotiations, which could go on for an eternity, what are you going to do to address the inequality of the Council and the veto abuse that’s obvious in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

Massari: The question of bridging the divide, particularly the global North and global South, is on the top of our agenda. The key issues are how to help the implementation of the Agenda 2030 and the SDGs. So is the issue of food security, which is absolutely central, which pre-existed the war against Ukraine. We are pretty much engaged in trying to find solutions to the concrete problems in the global South and low-income countries. Certainly, the Rome-based UN agencies, such as FAO and WFP, are playing a crucial role, and we are working on this too.

PassBlue: Italy originated Uniting for Consensus in the 1990s. What does Italy get out of this now?

Massari: We have to see how this negotiation will develop. As I said, we are not asking for seats for ourselves; we are trying to do this because multilateralism is in our DNA. We want the UN system of multilateralism to work well, properly, and to give a voice to everyone. We belong to the global North, but by traditions, history, geography, we feel that we are a bridge between the global North and global South. I will put it this way: We are the Southern face of the global North.