Basics and Backgrounds

  • The Big Four, also known as G4, refers to France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.
  • These countries are considered major European powersand they are the Western European countries individually represented as full members of the G7, the G8, the G10 and the G20.
  • France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom have been referred to as the “Big Four of Europe” since the interwar period.
  • The term G4 was used for the first time when French President Nicolas Sarkozycalled for a meeting in Paris with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Gordon Brown and Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel to consider the response to the financial crisis during the Great Recession.
  • The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Developmentdescribes them as the “Four Big European Countries”.

G-4 Meeting Key Highlights

  • They stressed the need to safeguard the legitimacy and credibility of UN organ which deals with international peace and security.
  • The need for the reform is underlined by the fact that the current composition of the Council does not reflect the changed global realities.
  • This is critical because the Security Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression.
  • The need for an early reform of the Council including the expansion of both the permanent and non-permanent categories of membership to enhance its legitimacy.
  • The current composition of the 15 nation Council does not reflect the changed global realities.
  • The ministers reiterated their support for Africa’s representation in both categories of membership in a reformed and expanded Security Council.
  • India and G-4 nations voiced concern over the lack of substantive progress in the long pending Security Council reform.
  • It is time to finally initiate text-based negotiations to safeguard the legitimacy and credibility of the powerful UN organ.

G4 on UNSC Reforms

  • Ensuring greater representation for Africa: Africa needs to be represented in both the permanent and non-permanent categories of UNSC to correct the historical injustice against this continent with regard to its under-representation in the Security Council.
  • Enhanced role of developing countries and of major contributors to the UN: To make UNSC more legitimate, effective and representative, it is needed to increase the number of permanent (from 5 to 11) and non-permanent (from 10 to 14) seats.
  • The permanent seats shall be elected in the following manner: Two from African States; Two from Asian States; One from Latin American and Caribbean States ; One from Western European and Other States.
  • Non-permanent members shall be elected according to the following pattern : One from African States ; One from Asian States ; One from Eastern European States ; One from Latin American and Caribbean State
  • The UNSC reforms proposed earlier had been opposed by the five permanent members (P5) of UNSC as they demanded veto power for new members as well (Razali Plan). However, later the new countries decided to forego the veto power for new countries which was accepted by P5 countries (Razali Reform Plan).

Razali reform plan

  • Under the plan, the UNSC would have five new permanent members without veto powers, besides four more non-permanent members taking the council’s strength to 24.

Text-Based Negotiations

  • The G4 will work with other reform-minded countries and groups to starttext-based negotiations (TBN)
  • India is a proponent of TBN at the UN. Countries opposed to UNSC reform, including China, are hesitant to have TBN for intergovernmental negotiations on the grounds that the matter istoo sensitive for text.

Concerns over IGN

  • Two sessions in February and March 2020 of Inter-Governmental Negotiations (IGN) on UNSC reform were adjourned due to Covid-19, which could have taken place virtually.
  • The countries expressed concern that IGNlacks the necessary openness and transparency and is constrained by flawed working methods.
  • IGN should also have included a reflection of the Common African Positionas enshrined in the Ezulwini Consensus and the Sirte Declaration.
    The Ezulwini Consensus (2005) is a position on international relations and reform of the United Nations, agreed by the African Union. It calls for a more representative and democratic Security council, in which Africa, like all other world regions, is represented.
  • The Sirte Declaration (1999)was the resolution adopted to establish the African Union.

G-4 Nations and Coffee Club

  • Uniting for Consensus (UFC) is a movement, nicknamed the Coffee Club.
  • It aims to counter the bids for permanent seats proposed by G4 nations.
  • It was developed in the 1990s.
  • Most members are middle-sized states who opposed bigger regional powers grabbing permanent seats in the UN Security Council.
  • The prime movers of the club include Italy, Spain, Australia, Canada, South Korea, Argentina and Pakistan.
  • It consists of nations that are selectively opposed to the G4 members due to regional rivalry such as Pakistan against India, Italy against Germany, Argentina and Mexico against Brazil, etc.

Present structure of the UNSC

  • At present, the UNSC comprises five permanent members and 10 non-permanent member countrieswhich are elected for a two-year term by the General Assembly of the UN.
  • The five permanent members are Russia, the UK, China, France and the United States.
  • These countries can veto any substantive resolution.

Way Forward

  • Speeding reform process:G4 have offered to initially forgo veto powers as permanent members in a reformed security council as a bargaining chip to get the reform process moving.
  • Expanding only the non-permanent categories, as suggested by UFC, would only worsen “the imbalance of influence” in the council and does “grave injustice to Africa’s aspirations for equality
  • The permanent members should realise that a more democratic and representative Security Council would be better-equipped to address global challenges.
  • Meaningful reform of the council to make it more representative and democratic is inevitable to enable it to take a comprehensive, coordinated and coherent approach to peace and security, sustainable development, and human rights challenges.
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