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European unity vital to avoid new cold war: UN chief

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Frankfurt am Main (AFP)

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday warned Europe must remain united if it wants to avoid a new "cold war" in tumultuous political times.

"If you want to avoid a new cold war... if you want to build a true multilateral order, we absolutely need a united and strong Europe," Guterres said as he accepted the Charlemagne Prize for services to European unity in Aachen, Germany.

The prize has been awarded annually since 1950 for efforts to cement European unification.

But the former Portuguese prime minister warned that as trust in international institutions threatens to erode on a rising tide of populism, the continent must be alert to the dangers accompanying that trend.

"At this time of great anxiety and geopolitical disorder we need multilateralism more than ever," said Guterres, describing himself as a "commmitted European."

He had never felt more strongly the need for European unity, he added.

Addressing an audience which included outgoing European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, Guterres saluted the "exemplary partnership" of the European Union with the United Nations.

Yet he warned that were the 28-nation bloc, already resigned to losing Britain, to break apart it would "inevitably be the failure of multilateralism and the failure of a world in which the rule of law can prevail."

Guterres said democratic principles today "are under siege, and the rule of law is being undermined. Inequalities are on the rise. Hate speech, racism and xenophobia are fuelling terrorism through social media."

Multilateralism was under fire "precisely when we need it most" as Europe finds itself needing to tackle issues as challenging as climate change, demographic change and the digital revolution.

Last year's award went to French President Emmanuel Macron, who has loudly touted the need for institutional reform in the EU to bring it up to date to face the new challenges.

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