TAKING STOCK: After 600 events, more than 100 leaders’ speeches, and dozens of protests that saw more than 4 million people hit the streets, it’s time to separate the substance from the fluff. Here are Playbook’s lasting impressions from a wild week:
— Banks and nongovernmental organizations have leapt ahead of most governments on climate, with detailed action plans, and deep-pocketed investments
— Official speeches have been sidelined: they are no longer the main form of diplomacy at UNGA: Nayib Bukele, the president of El Salvador, made that point clear on Thursday, when he paused at the beginning of his speech to take a selfie. “Many more people will see this selfie than listen to this speech,” he explained.
— U.S. President Donald Trump — even the low-energy version — will always suck up the political oxygen, no matter the location or topic.
— Colombia’s President Iván Duque Márquez is the individual leader who stood out most. He was everywhere and impressive, rallying support for a modernizing Colombia struggling with the fallout of the Venezeulan governance crisis. Listen to his interview with Playbook here.
— Anti-climax of the week: France and Germany’s “Alliance for Multilateralism.” While more than 40 foreign ministers were involved in what the French foreign minister described as “an informal coalition” for “humanitarian action,” there is no sense of momentum around the group. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that multilateralism must become “more inclusive, more representative, and more effective,” but assembled a group that was 80 percent European, the main exceptions being the foreign ministers of India, South Africa, Australia and Morocco.
GOOD FRIDAY MORNING, and welcome to the final edition of POLITICO’s U.N. Playbook. Today, Sudan, finance and issues facing small island nations are rounding out the GA agenda.
Over lunch, the U.N., African Union and Sudanese government are conducting a high-level meeting on Sudan’s transition away from military leadership (the military removed President Omar al-Bashir from office on April 11, while military and civilian leaders formed a three-year transitional government August 17). The African Union has been the main international broker in that process after China and Russia blocked U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres from getting more involved.
Meanwhile, the question of how the cash-strapped U.N. can mobilize the money to meet its 2030 global development goals is the focus of a day-long “high-level dialogue.”
The final summit this week focuses on the needs of Small Island Development States (the ones at risk of being submerged by rising oceans), running through Saturday.
LUXEMBOURG, LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD? It wouldn’t take much to persuade outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that his native Luxembourg is a light among the nations. But other world leaders might also be persuaded after Prime Minister Xavier Bettel’s soaring and sweeping address to the General Assembly on Thursday — a speech that proved a leader’s ambitions are hardly constrained by a small population. Watch in full here.
Bettel spoke for more than 20 minutes, beginning by wishing good luck to his friend and neighbor, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, who will take over on Dec. 1 as president of the European Council. (More on Michel in a minute.)
Grand Duchy’s giving pledge: Bettel outlined Luxembourg’s aspirations to use its wealth (it has the highest per capita GDP in the EU) to make the world a better place, and then shifted into a defense of multilateral cooperation — a theme many leaders viewed as more urgent after Trump’s speech emphasizing sovereignty and nationalism.
“The major challenges facing humanity cannot be overcome unless we act universally and as one, unless we find a global response,” Bettel said. On trade, Bettel warned of disputes “often based on mendacious pretexts” — unnecessary fights in which he said “the international community and our people risk coming out the losers.”
Globalism as common sense: He defended the EU as “quintessential” for peace and argued globalism just makes sense: “We have always been in favor of an active dynamic and rules-based multilateralism as Luxembourg, that is perhaps natural for a very small country that has an open economy, but it’s also a rational choice.”
Humans and human rights first: Bettel was perhaps at his most passionate speaking about human rights, particularly women’s rights and tolerance for LGBTI individuals: “As I think we are all aware, or we ought to be aware: homosexuality is not a choice, let it be accepted that that is how people are,” said Bettel, who is Luxembourg’s first openly gay prime minister. “What is a choice is homophobia and we should not tolerate it.”
Remembering the Nazi past: “When you see a return of Nazi ideas, and a denial of what happened, I really asked myself, did we really learn the lessons of the Second World War.”
On reproductive rights: “It is not up to the state to tell women is best for them, still less is it up to men to tell women what is best for them.”
MORE FROM BENELUX: The European Council’s current and future presidents also had their turn in the well of the cavernous General Assembly.
Views from Belgium: Charles Michel, the Council president-elect was rather understated, speaking in the capacity of his current post as prime minister of Belgium. He focused on the big themes of climate change, sustainable development and peace and security. And in his introductory remarks, he quoted, poignantly, from former French President Jacques Chirac whose passing had just been announced.
“In a changing world, there is no greater risk than staying still,” Michel said, quoting Chirac. He added, “History always shows it is progress that is at the heart of cooperation, European or international.”
DONALD TAKES DOWN DONALD: Tusk, the outgoing Council president who was formally representing the EU at UNGA, used his final speech to launch a no-holds-barred broadside against Trump. It was an eloquent and forceful beatdown, in which among other things he urged the blustery American president (without ever naming him) to “just stop lying.” A fuller report on Tusk’s speech is here.
ANTONIO GUTERRES REPORT CARD: Guterres arrived in office with many blessings and one big curse. He is the first real politician to lead the U.N, having had experience running his own country of Portugal, the EU and parts of the U.N. itself. That matters because he’s not just a diplomat: His job is to work with 193 national leaders, nearly all of them holding a political office (a few mostly hands-off royals are sprinkled in), with relatively little executive power or money at his disposal.
Guterres’ bind is that he arrived in New York at a time of rising nationalism, spearheaded by a potent figurehead: Donald Trump. In that context, speaking too loudly and too often might simply highlight the U.N.’s impotence on a given issue. Yet if Guterres stays silent, he will look irrelevant or out of touch with most of his member countries.
His first task then is making sure the U.N. still exists as an organization in two years, or seven (if he seeks and gets a second term, which he hasn’t yet committed to). He told the General Assembly Tuesday that his broader task is to stop the world from splitting in two, around American and Chinese poles, each with “their own zero sum geopolitical and military strategies.”
So how is he doing operating in this narrow space? His team insists he’s laboring hard to reform the U.N. as a mere first among many equals. Playbook partially buys the argument, but Guterres must have some power, on the basis that virtually no one we spoke to wanted to go on the record with an opinion, in order to protect their relationship with him.
— Has opened up U.N. events and processes, letting private actors step in where U.N. member states fail to.
— He does well on retail politics, traveling and reaching out to ordinary people, and building those experiences into his communications.
— Avoided the trap of engaging in direct combat with hardliners — including his own members — who criticize the U.N.
— Neil Walsh, the head of the U.N. cybercrime center, told Playbook “he’s human and gives a damn. Can’t ask for much more really.”
— The Security Council is virtually dysfunctional these days, with unpredictable leaders gumming up the system.
— Criticized for doing too little publicly on urgent human rights situations, including in Venezuela and regarding China’s Uighur population. Guterres firmly rejects that criticism: “It is absolutely not true that I’ve only done discreet diplomacy,” he said.
— Guterres has stepped up his rhetoric on climate, directly calling for an end to new coal projects and for a global carbon pricing system.
— Guterres has successfully integrated key appointees pushed by the Trump administration, including Henrietta Fore as head of UNICEF. These figures act as useful buffers in Washington anytime the administration hints at defunding the U.N. “He feels emboldened now,” compared to the first year of the Trump administration, according to one senior U.N. official.
Nothing to see here! Sitting at a distance in New York, the most striking news development Thursday was not the whistleblower complaint itself, but the apparent effort to lock down the July 25 call memo in highly secure systems. The handling of the record in that way will lead to some very uncomfortable questions for the White House.
Trump’s last UNGA words: Whoever the whistleblower talked to is “close to a spy” and “in the old days,” spies were dealt with differently. “The remark stunned people in the audience, according to a person briefed on what took place, who had notes of what the president said. Trump made the statement several minutes into his remarks before the group of about 50 mission employees and their families at the event intended to honor the mission,” Maggie Haberman of the New York Times reported. Audio of Trump’s remarks here.
Giuliani’s last word? Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said in a phone call with the Atlantic: “It is impossible that the whistleblower is a hero and I’m not. And I will be the hero! These morons — when this is over, I will be the hero,” Elaina Plott reports.
Did we mention the mind-bending nature of Ukraine politics? Hunter Biden “did not violate” Ukraine laws, says former top prosecutor. “Hunter Biden cannot be responsible for violations of the management of Burisma that took place two years before his arrival,” Yuriy Lutsenko told the Washington Post.
BORIS AND BREXIT BRIEF: The EU is starting to expect a showdown at what could be Boris Johnson’s final EU leaders’ summit next month. But EU leaders and negotiators are making clear there will be no negotiations, nor an endless late-night discussion on a legal text at the summit on October 17.
POLITICO’s Charlie Cooper analyzes where the British prime minister went wrong. Jack Blanchard interviews Keir Starmer, the opposition U.K. Labour Party’s shadow Brexit secretary, in this week’s EU Confidential podcast.
THE ROYAL WE: European Royals have been out in force this UNGA week, doing a lot more than cutting ribbons. Figures such as King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, Queen Mathilde of Belgium and Crown Prince Haakon of Norway have been some of the most articulate and forceful advocates for multilateralism and the most vulnerable people. Prince Harry wasn’t in New York, but gave a speech in Botswana backing climate activist Greta Thunberg and quoting Guterres’ UNGA speech.
Mathilde and Haakon are Sustainable Development Goals advocates, and Willem-Alexander used his UNGA speech (which he rather than the prime minister delivers) to say “we should cherish the multilateral system and its international agreements and rules as a precious achievement.” But it’s Máxima who has the most elaborate U.N. links, having served for 10 years as the U.N. secretary-general’s special advocate for inclusive finance for development.
NEW CYBER PEACE INSTITUTE: Marietje Schaake of the Netherlands (a WEF Young Global Leader and former member of European Parliament) is its president.
IDEA OF THE DAY — GLOBAL CHILDHOOD CANCER INITIATIVE: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the World Health Organization have pulled together 123 institutions with the aim of saving the lives of 1 million children with cancer by 2030. Getting there will require curing 60 percent of children with the world’s six most common types of cancers. Given that St. Jude’s estimates half the world’s children living with cancer go undiagnosed today, it’s a huge lift. Yet it’s possible: Today in the United States, the survival rate is 80 percent. Worldwide, though, the figure is 20 percent, which is where the U.S. and Europe were in the early 1960s. More details here from Dr. Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo.
Did you know? Out of 120 speeches by world leaders to the U.N. General Assembly only six were delivered by women. PassBlue analyzes the situation.
Plastic can still be fantastic: In the main installation area at the U.N., UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire and Conceptos Plasticos have reconstructed walls of a classroom made up of bricks made from 100 percent recycled plastic waste. A single classroom uses 5 tons of waste, and helps expand access to education in a country with a classroom shortage.
“Plastic is a design failure.” — Maldives’ President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who wants his country to be plastic-free by 2023.
“I’m pretty shy about calling people. I just want to mail them my charts.” — Microsoft founder Bill Gates. h/t Robbie Gramer
WORLD POPULATION CLIMBING BEYOND EXPECTATIONS: The United Nations forecast for the 2050 human population is adjusted every couple of years — and estimates rise with nearly every adjustment. Although further declines in birth rates are expected, life expectancies will continue to rise.
This week saw the first organized global call for universal health care. Where does data fit into the challenge of saving lives and helping people achieve a sense of security about their health? Playbook spoke to Rockefeller Foundation chief Raj Shah for POLITICO’s U.N. podcast, and we asked more than a dozen folks at U.N. HQ — from elevator operators to presidents — about what is being done to limit preventable deaths in their countries. Special thanks to Jenny Ament who produced this special podcast series from New York City.
Playbook also spoke to Guillermo Miranda, the global head of corporate citizenship at IBM, about how data can be used for social good. (Declaration: Ryan Heath’s partner works for IBM).
We’ve already heard about Queen Máxima’s hands-on work to advance financial inclusion. She’s started a trend it seems: Ivanka Trump’s WGDP program parrots Máxima’s language (watch her interview here). Other finance initiatives catching our eye:
New report from the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative: “Digital with Purpose: Delivering a SMARTer2030”, identifies and quantifies how digital technologies can help governments, businesses and philanthropic organizations meet the U.N. Global Goals quicker. It includes 500 case studies where tech is helping to get the world onto a sustainable path.
Finance Against Slavery and Trafficking: This is a project based at the United Nations University Centre for Policy Research, where leading banks and survivor service providers work to offer financial services to survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking. Banks involved include Bank of America, Bank of the West, Barclays, BB&T, BMO Financial Group, Citi, Erste Bank, HSBC, LCNB National Bank, Scotiabank, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo.
The project organizers said in a statement that “survivors often find that traffickers have hijacked their financial identity or banking products for money laundering or other criminal purposes, spoiling their creditworthiness and increasing their risk of re-victimization.” Dr. James Cockayne, who heads the secretariat supporting this work, said “modern slavery leaves us all worse off because it treats people as disposable objects rather than full economic and social agents.”
BRUSH WITH FAME: What would you do if you emerged from your bathroom stall at the United Nations to find your president brushing his teeth in front of you? If you’re Playbook’s French source, the answer is you fail to recognize him at first. If you then figured out who it was as you dried your hands, would you A) gasp B) apologize and wish him good morning or C) scurry away? The source scurried away.
YUNUS SIGHTED! UNGA regulars have been known to take bets or play a special version of Bingo!, around how many times the microcredit legend Muhammad Yunus will pop up at events, on screens, and in print, in and around UNGA week. He’s been notably quiet this week, until popping up in a press release about modern slavery to inform us that: “Microcredit has offered a big breakthrough in reaching the most vulnerable segments of the global population.”
MEGASTAR ‘GLOBAL GOAL LIVE’ EVENT: Playbook knew it would be star-studded when the organizers asked media to arrive 90 minutes before the event started (Playbook wisely arrived a mere 15 minutes in advance) at St. Ann’s Warehouse under the Brooklyn Bridge. The room was filled with actual famous people, and the sort of people who are so young and beautiful, they kind of look famous: influencers, maybe.
The event was an elaborate way of Teneo — the CEO advisory firm and co-organizer — saying that woke celebrity is the highest form of celebrity currency in 2019. We were all there to learn, in a collective rapture thanks to nudges by former CNN presenter Isha Sesay, about Global Goal Live: The Possible Dream.
The event’s supporters want to see the world’s poorest 59 countries raise — either through tax-generating foreign investment or loans and donations — an additional $350 billion a year to put toward achieving the U.N.’s Global Goals. The demand is in line with the Gates Foundation’s call to focus on the most extreme poverty.
But what does a figure like that really mean? To give you three points of context: It’s $200 a year for every person in the world, 3 percent of the wealth of the world’s estimated 2,150 billionaires, and one-sixth the world’s annual defense spending.
Mark Burnett will produce simultaneous 10-hour concerts on five continents, including in New York and Lagos, this time next year. The list of artists and supporting organizations is really too long to include here, but everyone’s favorite man at the event was Hugh Evans, CEO of Global Citizen, by all accounts the new Bono when it comes to mobilizing voices and cash to fight extreme poverty.
L-NOB: Leave No One Behind
Office of the Masterplan: An office that was created to implement this architecture plan.
Best nickname: Under Secretary General for ISIS
Islands: High-level meeting to review progress made in addressing the priorities of Small Island Developing States (SIDS)
A Conversation With Salome Zourabichvili (president, Georgia). Alexander Vershbow presiding. Council on Foreign Relations, 58 East 68 Street, New York, NY 10065, 10-11 a.m.
A Conversation With Barham Salih (president, Iraq). Meghan O’Sullivan presiding. Council on Foreign Relations, 58 East 68 Street, New York, NY 10065, 12-1 p.m.:
Financial Sector Commission on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking will release its final report at UN HQ, watch live on UN Web TV, from 1:15 p.m..
Change it up: DEC Projects is hosting a Future Changemakers event from 7:00 p.m. (till late!) at the ACE Hotel New York, for a panel followed by cocktails.
Hugh Jackman’s Global Citizen Festival in the Central Park Great Lawn.