Blog Post

Three Questions with Arndt Freytag von Loringhoven, Special Ambassador of Germany for the Alliance for Multilateralism  

April 07, 2020
Photo Credit: Spreefoto / Shutterstock

On March 26, Germany special ambassador for the Alliance for Multilateralism, Arndt Freytag von Loringhoven, addressed the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund about the initiative that was launched last year by the foreign ministers of France and Germany. The Alliance for Multilateralism is an informal network of countries aiming to renew the global commitment to stabilize the rules-based international order, uphold its principles, and adapt it where necessary. Afterwards, Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, GMF vice president and director of the Berlin office, asked the ambassador about multilateralism during the coronavirus crisis. He discussed the international response to the crisis and how the alliance could help in the efforts to contain the pandemic.

The Foreign Office website has a hashtag saying: “multilateralism matters.” But multilateralism seems to be just another victim in the first phase of the coronavirus pandemic. What happened?

I think indeed in the very first phase the reflex of most countries has been to turn toward themselves and to organize a set of measures to contain the virus. But I think we are already in the second phase, and we are seeing in the EU, in the G20, at the World Health Organization (WHO), in New York at the United Nations, multiple efforts to work together. Indeed, there is no better wake-up call for the necessity of international cooperation than a pandemic that by nature knows no borders and can only be successfully overcome by international cooperation. I think we are seeing this second phase already.

Why has the response of the post-war international institutions or the core of the multilateral framework been weak so far?

I think to some extent it is natural to first of all take immediate local measures, and perhaps the beginning of the second phase should have happened earlier. But I think the picture internationally is actually mixed. Take the WHO, which has played a very strong role right from the beginning and is a competent organization. The EU does not have strong competencies in the health area. So, you cannot compare that to other areas such as trade where the EU, not member states are in the lead. But here it is taking measures on the financial front and also in terms of health coordination. I think the G7 and the G20 really need to spring into action, and that is where I see a big difference between this crisis and, say, the global financial crisis more than 10 years ago when both G7, or G8 at the time, and the G20 played a leading coordinating role right from the start. That is what we really need right now.

The Alliance for Multilateralism is an initiative that focuses on concrete action. Help us understand your thinking and how it can have a positive impact or an imprint in tackling this crisis?

The alliance is a flexible network of states and non-state actors. It is not a new institution. Its role is really in supporting international organizations that have an operational role in an area such as health. So, we are presently looking at various ways to support the WHO and other international organizations.  We want to make sure that tests, treatment and vaccines reach the most needy in our world. And we also need to look at a reform of global health governance, to make sure that the world will be better prepared for the next crisis.

Prevention and compliance with the International Health Regulations must be strengthened to eliminate the possibility of another pandemic of similar gravity in the near future.