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Filling the vacuum: who will save multilateralism?

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University of Huddersfield

Queensgate

Huddersfield

HD1 3DH

United Kingdom

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Filling the vacuum: who will save multilateralism?

Mikael Barfod

While they have never been perfect, multilateral organisations have been weakened since the Cold War by fierce political struggles. More recently, populists have rejected global ideology in favour of patriotism. This has already had serious consequences for free trade, the fight against global warming, and for human rights, with autocrats feeling ever more at ease ignoring them.

The European Union has actively supported multilateralism, regarding it as complementary to its own goals. Will attacks on multilateralism strengthen the EU’s resolve, or will its own populist issues affect its ability to act?

Are attempts to retain “sovereignty” in reality achieving the opposite? Countries that pull out of UN organisations, or stop funding them, risk losing their influence. Trade wars could also have negative economic consequences for countries pursuing the populist agenda. Have we yet reached the limit for the erosion of multilateralism and universal human rights?

Despite their imperfections, multilateral organisations are still the best, if not the only, answer to numerous global issues, from climate, to migration to universal human rights.

The UN was constructed amidst the chaos of World War II to build a future based largely on American democratic values. With the USA now leaving a vacuum here in terms of its “America First” agenda, could the EU, supported by the UK (post-Brexit), help to fill this vacuum and maintain the multilateral agenda for the sake of the planet? Do we need now to start reforming the UN and rebuilding its legitimacy, either in readiness for a decline in populism, or gradually to counteract it?

Mikael Barfod began his career in the Danish Central Government Administration, then moved to the United Nations, working in Zambia and the Philippines. He subsequently joined the European Commission as Economic Adviser in Liberia and Zimbabwe. Transferred to EU Commission HQ in Brussels in 1993, he worked in a series of managerial roles within humanitarian affairs and development assistance, with responsibility for regions in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific and a regional portfolio of €3 billion.

In 2012 Barfod took up duties as EU Ambassador and Head of Delegation to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean states, to the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). On retirement from the EU in 2017, Barfod returned home to Denmark, where he is an EU political advisor and lectures on human rights and international development issues.

Mr Barfod is Visiting Professor and International Advisory Group member for the None in Three Research Centre at the University of Huddersfield.

Location: Oastler Building, level 7, room 31 (OA7/31)

Registration from 5.30pm (refreshments available)

Lecture 6pm

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University of Huddersfield

Queensgate

Huddersfield

HD1 3DH

United Kingdom

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