In a boost to battered European unity, Italy and the Netherlands agreed to share the two-year Security Council term for a non-permanent West European seat Tuesday after five rounds of balloting failed to break a deadlock in the General Assembly.
When the fifth round leveled out the Netherlands’ slight lead to an even 95-95 split, the two countries agreed to split the term, with Italy taking the first turn next year.
Coming soon after Brexit, the momentous British referendum verdict to leave the European Union, the foreign ministers of both the countries hailed their agreement as a show of unity.
Calling the diplomatic deal a “signal of European cooperation”, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said it was a “show of unity for a complex time for Europe”.
Asked by reporters about its symbolism, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said it was “not anti-Brexit, but pro-unity”.
He added that it was a way for two European countries to show unity saying: “We have much in common.”
Of the two West European seats that were at play, the other was taken in the first round ballot by Sweden with 134 votes to exceed the needed two-thirds majority.
For the Asia-Pacific slot, neither Thailand nor Kazakhstan got the two-thirds majority in the first round but the Central Asian nation raced ahead with 138 votes in the second ballot to become the first former Soviet country in Asia to serve on the Council.
Ethiopia was unanimously proposed by the African group and Bolivia by the Latin American-Caribbean bloc and were elected in the fist round.
Half of the 10 non-permanent seats with two-year terms come up for election every year.
The elections used to be held in October but the General Assembly moved them to June starting this year to give the new members more preparation time before they take their seats on the Council on New Year’s Day.
The winds of change blowing across the UN parting in its wake the veils of secrecy led to the candidates for the contested seats participating in campaign debates held for the first time at the UN.
It was sponsored by the World Federation of UN Associations (WFUNA).
The two-thirds requirement for election to the non-permanent Security Council seats can lead to almost interminable rounds of voting when there isn’t a consensus in the regional groups.
The last time two countries formally agreed to split their terms was during the cold war in 1960 when Poland and Turkey agreed to split the 1960-61 term after 52 rounds.
Also in 1956, after 36 rounds between Yugoslavia and the Philippines, Manila agreed to withdraw on the understanding that Yugoslavia would step down after the first year and the Philippines would run uncontested for the remainder of the term.
The longest deadlock was a 155-round standoff between Cuba and Colombia in 1979. The exhausted adversaries gave up and Mexico was elected in a compromise.
Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft, who helped broker the Italy-Netherlands deal, announced that the 193-member body would take up formal approval of the arrangement after West Europe and Others Group approved it.