To try to show European unity before a key parliamentary election for the European Union in May, France and Germany teamed up for the United Nations Security Council presidencies in March and April, respectively. After the first stint by France — including a Council trip to Mali and Burkina Faso in the Sahel region of West Africa and meetings on Yemen, Syria and counterterrorism — the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, met his German counterpart Heiko Maas in New York in early April to pass the torch for the German presidency.
This month will mark the final half of the twinning — jumelage, as the French call it — as the two European countries push forward their agenda in New York and back home to prove that multilateralism still matters at the UN and that European unity is worth believing in on the Western side of the Atlantic.
The German presidency is highlighting such issues as conflict prevention, nonproliferation, protection of humanitarian workers, arms control and sexual violence against women in conflict. The Security Council has already held an emergency meeting on Libya, behind closed doors, on April 5. An open session on Venezuela, requested by the United States, is scheduled for April 10. (Vice President Pence is supposed to attend.)
The country’s capitals, Berlin and Paris, also want to see continued support for the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali as the US aims to reduce the operation. They are also seeking close collaboration on peace and security in neighboring Burkina Faso. Both countries are experiencing rising terrorist and other armed threats. While the Council was in Mali, a massacre occurred in the center of the country, leaving 157 people dead.
The twinned presidency also reflects the Treaty of Aachen, signed in January 2019 to solidify cooperation between the two nations.
Heusgen answered questions by email; some of his responses have been edited and condensed.
Ambassador to UN: Christoph Heusgen, 64
Since: July 2017
Languages: German, English, French
Education: Bachelor in economics from University of St. Gallen, Switzerland; post-graduate studies at University of St. Gallen and Sorbonne, Paris, receiving his Ph.D. in economics.
His story, briefly: Heusgen was born in Dusseldorf, in northwestern Germany. The son of two pharmacists, he was raised in the neighboring city of Neuss, where he graduated from high school in 1973. After studying in Germany, France and the United States (Ohio) and obtaining his Ph.D., Heusgen immediately went to work for the German foreign service in 1980.
Heusgen took up his first post in press and economic affairs at the Consulate General in Chicago in 1983. Next, he served at the German embassy in Paris, before returning home to work at the Foreign Office headquarters in Bonn, where he became private secretary to the Coordinator for German-French Relations. (The capital of Germany was moved from Bonn to Berlin in 1990, after the reunification of the country.)
Heusgen also held the positions of deputy head of the special section in charge of negotiations of the Treaty of Maastricht between 1990 and 1992 and worked in diverse positions focusing on European Union-German relations until 2005.
Before coming to New York, Heusgen served his most crucial role in the government as foreign policy and security advisor to Chancellor Angela Merkel and as director general of the Foreign Office from 2005 to 2017. Merkel apparently offered Heusgen any post in the world after his stint with her, and he chose New York.
In 2006, a document released by Wikileaks shows Heusgen’s early attempts to strengthen the European Union in the UN, reflecting possibly the current initiative to twin the French and German presidencies in the Council. As an adviser to Merkel, he said “the current German government wants the EU to take more common positions in the UN to support the long term objective of strengthening the EU.”
Heusgen, who was Merkel’s point person in the Middle East, among his many roles, was criticized in an editorial recently by the German conservative tabloid Bild for comparing Israel to Hamas, after Heusgen said, “Civilians must live without fear of Palestinian rockets or Israeli bulldozers,” in the UN Security Council.
Heusgen is married and has four children; his wife, Ina Heusgen, works in the UN Department of Peacekeeping’s resource mobilization unit.
PassBlue: What achievement are you the most proud of in your career?
Heusgen: I feel very privileged about my career trajectory and the chance to work for a German foreign minister and a German chancellor, for the European Union and — at the end of my career — for the United Nations.
PassBlue: How do you like living in New York City?
Heusgen: New York City has so much to offer — if only one had the time! My family and I very much enjoy the Upper East Side with Central Park directly around the corner: the perfect area for running, our two kids to play and my grown-up kids to visit. My wife — a lawyer and doctor by training and a career diplomat — and I are passionate runners. Running the New York Marathon together, like we did last November, is a truly unique opportunity.
PassBlue: What drove you to diplomacy?
Heusgen: I became a member of a political party at age 16. Although I later became a civil servant who ideally should be politically neutral, I stand by my decision to affiliate with a political party. [He is a member of the Christian Democratic Union, the same as Merkel.] And I encourage all young people today to become politically active. Get involved! Take an interest in decisions that will shape your life. Participate in the decision-making process.
It was not a conventional decision to become a diplomat as a graduate of a business college. I entered the Foreign Service as an idealist, and even today I remain driven by the objective to make the world a bit better by strengthening human rights, protecting and promoting women and children, resolving conflicts through political means, not military force and — above all — strengthening an international rules-based liberal order.
PassBlue: What do you miss the most about Germany?
I would probably say two things: as a big soccer fan — actually Bayern Munich — I miss going to Bundesliga games in the stadium. And whenever possible, I try to at least briefly attend the Neusser Schützenfest, an annual marksmen’s festival in my hometown, Neuss.
PassBlue: What are Germany’s priorities for the dual presidencies in the Security Council?
Heusgen: We are jointly working to strengthen multilateralism and defend key values, dear to both countries and the European Union. International crises and conflicts — from Ukraine to the Middle East, from Venezuela to Mali and North Korea — have our full attention. Reinvigorating the discussion about nonproliferation is much needed. Peacekeeping missions contribute to the stabilization of conflicts in the long term. Women have a special role in this regard — we want to strengthen their active contribution to political and peace processes. At the same time, we need to protect women in conflicts, especially against sexual violence. Crises and conflicts often flare up where human rights are blatantly abused, and where the consequences of climate change threaten livelihoods. Early detection and crisis prevention go hand in hand when it comes to the protection of human rights worldwide.
PassBlue: How did the first month of the jumelage go?
Heusgen: The first month went exceptionally well. When we presented the programs for March and April on 1 March, the idea of jumelage was even more positively received than we would have expected. The very close collaboration between our countries is seen by many as a concrete positive example of cooperation at a time when multilateralism is under strain.
PassBlue: What further special events are planned?
Heusgen: Two signature events under Germany’s presidency will be dedicated to women, peace and security. German Secretary of Defense Ursula von der Leyen will chair an open debate about women in peacekeeping on April 11. On April 23, Foreign Minister Maas will chair an open debate on sexual violence in conflict. Last year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureates Nadia Murad and Dr. Denis Mukwege have confirmed their participation, as well as international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and a representative of civil society from Libya. We are working on an ambitious resolution that we put forward for adoption on that occasion.
PassBlue: How else are you planning to promote women’s rights, besides the debates noted above?
Heusgen: We are co-chairing the Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security with Peru. This body makes sure that the Council receives specific and targeted recommendations and information on the situation of women in conflicts around the globe.
PassBlue: What are your priorities for UN Security Council reform?
Heusgen: Our main goal is to strengthen the UN Security Council. For that to happen, its structure needs to reflect the world of the 21st century. It is clear that reform is not to be achieved overnight; UN member states have been deliberating for decades already on how to best go about it. Together with our partners from Brazil, India and Japan, as well as many others, we believe it is high time to finally move forward to safeguard the multilateral order. Text-based negotiations are a first crucial step.
In the meantime, we have introduced several practical new approaches in the working methods of the Security Council. For example, to increase the effectiveness of sessions, briefers are asked to include more practical recommendations on the measures for the Council to embrace. Also, we want to encourage the participation of civil society, in particular women civil society briefers, in debates. We are additionally seeking to make debates more interactive by asking members to keep their interventions short, concise and avoid reading out written statements. Finally, the Council is also benefiting from a long-overdue dose of sunshine upon Germany’s initiative to open the curtains of the Council chamber!
Head of State: Angela Merkel (chancellor), Frank-Walter Steinmeier (president)
Foreign Affairs Minister: Heiko Maas
Type of Government: Federal, parliamentary constitutional republic
Year Germany Joined the UN: 1952 (then the Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany)
Years in the Security Council: 1977-1978, 1985-1986, 1987-1988, 2003-2004, 2011-2012, 2019-2020
Population: 82.8 million
2019 Contributions to UN: $186,632,672 (or $2.25 per capita)
2019 Contributions to UN Peacekeeping: $427,458,720 (or $5.16 per capita)
Memberships in Regional Groups: Group of 7 (G7), Group of 20 (G20), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), European Union (EU),
2015 Maternal Death Rate: 6/100,000 (source); by comparison, the US rate was 26.4/100,000
2017 per Capita GDP: $44.500; EU, $33,723; US, $59,531; world, $10,721
2018 CO2 Emissions (in tons, per capita): 9.7; EU, 6.9; US, 17.0; world, 4.8
Electric Power Consumption (1,000 kWh/per capita and year): 7.0; by comparison: EU, 5.9; US, 12.9; world, 3.1 (2014).
This article was updated.
Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.