FAO Liaison Office in Brussels

Interview with Director of the United Nations in Brussels: Camilla Brückner


Camilla, thank you so much for accepting to do this interview. You are the Director of the UN in Brussels since September 2021. Could you tell us a bit more about your responsibilities as Director of the UN Office in Brussels? What would you say is your own personal mission and objective in this role? 
The EU and the UN need each other more than ever to enable multilateral responses to the global challenges and multiplying crises we face today. My mission is to help strengthen the partnership between the two institutions, try to make it more strategic and policy-focused bedsides individual projects, and help make it more coherent, coordinated and impactful by acting as “One UN”.  In his appointment letter, the Secretary-General asked me to “coordinate the presence of the UN system in Brussels and represent the UN system in its engagement with institutions of the European Union”. To this aim, I try to serve the UN system including the “UN Brussels team” (UNBT) by creating spaces for common engagement with the EU around joint priorities.  A good example of this is the preparation of our annual UNBT retreat, where we organise joint meetings between the Heads of Agency in Brussels and EU Commissioners, Directors-Generals and other senior officials to discuss joint priorities for the year ahead, or our joint responses to new EU initiatives or strategies. Another example is the substantive support the UN BT provides to UN leadership in HQ, to UN Resident Coordinators and Country Teams and to other non-resident UN offices in their engagement with the EU, particularly by briefing on latest development in the partnership, advising on messaging and organising missions to Brussels. What is important to mention is that most of these efforts to make the UN-EU partnership stronger and more coherent would not be possible without the leadership of the agencies who coordinate much of this work. For example, the efforts of FAO and UNEP who co-chair the UN Brussels task force on the European Green Deal. I am really grateful for the work done by the FAO liaison office in Brussels led by Raschad Al-Khafaji in bringing the UN system together around food systems and other key policies of the European Green Deal.

We celebrated World Food Day on 16 October and UN Day on 24 October. Two international days of great relevance. What can we do to further increase the visibility of the United Nations’ work in Belgium? 
These are important moments for the UN system to come together as One and explain to citizens and partners what we do to advance the SDGs. People know the United Nations as a single global entity bringing together all countries in the world to find common solutions to global challenges. They know much less about our mandates as individual agencies. In Brussels, we need to identify key moments during the year where we can communicate together to partners and to the public about the importance of the UN-EU partnership to protect our people and planet. By preparing joint messaging, events and social media engagements we can show a more united front, highlight results, reach a broader audience that we would do individually and provide better visibility to the partnership. We already coordinate strongly during major events like the European Development Days. We have also started work more closely together in view of the European Humanitarian Forum in 2023. We now need to scale up the successful models we have and be more present in key debates and visibility opportunities in Brussels.

The European Union and the United Nations have a solid and longstanding collaboration. What would you consider the main strengths of this partnership? What are currently the key themes and priorities of the EU-UN Partnership? 
The EU-UN partnership has increased in strategic importance and operational size in the last decade. Covid-19 and recent crises strengthened this bond, with close cooperation between the UN and EU in responding globally and in countries. This partnership is based on shared values and alignment of EU priorities with the SDGs and Our Common Agenda, and a strong belief in defending multilateralism. In July 2022, the EU and UN held the first high-level dialogue in New York. The dialogue underlined broad agreement on analysis of the state of the world, with the invasion of Ukraine being a major game changer with global impact, while the triple planetary crisis, COVID-19 recovery and regression of the Sustainable Development Goals continue to be major preoccupations. Our cooperation with the EU takes place at all levels and on all aspects of the SDGs, hence all levels of cooperation need to be strengthened. In particular, we need to support developing countries to cope with the current crises and immediate financing needs. We also need to intensify structural collaboration at country level, ensuring focus on the strategic partnership, and promote potential synergies between Resident Coordinators/country teams and Global  Gateway/ Team Europe - on SDG implementation at country level with a particular focus on redressing food systems, the climate and biodiversity crises, and digital cooperation. Global initiatives like Our Common Agenda and the UN Secretary-General call to Action for Human Rights have a strong support from the EU, and together we can make sure they have transformative impact.

You coordinate 30 United Nations agencies, funds, programmes and other entities in Brussels, including 3 virtual members, each with their own mandate and priorities. Do you feel the “One UN” approach is gaining momentum over the past years?
As mentioned by the Secretary-General in its message for UN Day, “Today, our organization is being tested like never before. But the United Nations was made for moments like this.” To respond to this test, we need to deliver as One. Working more closely together to respond to global challenges, empower and protect citizens and preserve our planet is a  more imperative. The One UN approach is definitely getting traction, but more needs to be done. The interconnected nature of the SDGs calls for a much stronger joined-up action of the UN system and key partners like the EU in addressing the root causes of inequalities and global crises. The future of our people and planet are inextricably linked, hence we can no longer afford to work in silos with our individual mandates. The UN Brussels team is a particularly good example of this, as major agencies including FAO have taken a key role in coordinating our work on common priority areas with the EU.

As a follow up question: how do you ensure, in your role as UN Director, that joint priorities go beyond the individual agencies’ mandates? 
What I find most important is to provide spaces for common action that can boost the impact of individual agencies’ work. The UN presence in Brussels is particularly significant as 30 UN agencies, funds, programmes and other entities  coordinate their common work vis-à-vis the EU on a daily basis. The UNBT defines common positions and finds joint spaces for dialogue with the European Commission, the European External Action Service, the Council of the EU, the European Parliament and various EU bodies. Thematic “task forces” of UN agencies focusing on key EU-UN priorities (European Green Deal, Digital, Africa, Youth and more) entertain a regular policy discussion with the EU, for example through joint UN position papers. Through regular contact with UNHQ (NY, Geneva) and other UN stations, UN Brussels seeks to facilitate and support a coherent engagement of the UN system with the EU. This includes both policy and programmatic/contractual issues (FAFA). This coordination is not perfect, and much more can be done to present a united face to partners and citizens. However, it largely works as agencies see the added value and impact of speaking and acting as one, avoiding duplication and pooling resources. Also, with UN reform we have a clear mandate from our Member States and UN principals to work more closely As One, which we have a duty to implement.

A final question: what would you do on one of your rare free days in Brussels? Any recommendations for a perfect day? 
Hmmm... a perfect day in Brussels includes starting with a morning run then out to one of the many good brunch places, a walk through town and either the antique or food markets, a walk or bike ride in the forest, a visit to a museum or a gallery – I hear the Magritte museum is impressive which will be my next target  - and some moules-frites for dinner and/or cinema :-)