Press Releases

    11 July 2002

    Deputy Secretary-General Reviews Past Achievements, Future Challenges Facing Economic and Social Council

    NEW YORK, 10 July (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the statement by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette at the opening of the coordination segment of the 2002 session of the Economic and Social Council:

    It is a great pleasure to address this coordination segment, which will focus on the strengthening of the Economic and Social Council and the integrated follow-up to United Nations conferences.

    The rationale for your ongoing efforts to strengthen the Economic and Social Council and follow-up to UN conferences is clear. The age-old plague of poverty remains as daunting as ever. Inequality within and among nations is growing, with troubling implications. Globalization offers formidable opportunities to raise standards of living, but as yet too many people and too many countries have remained on the margins, unable to enjoy its benefits. A strong and effective Economic and Social Council is essential for the United Nations to be able to play a leading role in helping the people of the world achieve a better future for themselves and for their children.

    Our understanding of the economic and social problems confronting us and of the actions necessary to tackle them has improved significantly, thanks to the conferences of the 1990s. These conferences mobilized governments, civil society groups, the private sector and others around a common vision of economic and social progress. Most importantly, these landmark events created a common policy framework which now guides the action of all the entities of the United Nations system.

    This cycle of conferences reached a culmination of sorts with the Millennium Summit, which adopted a remarkably clear Declaration that captured the aspirations of our time, and established the Millennium Development Goals as the global frame of reference for all our efforts to achieve economic and social progress.

    Since then, the efforts to develop policy and strategies have deepened, with additional conferences and special sessions on AIDS, hunger, the rights of children and the plight of the least developed countries. Emerging issues such as ageing, which will soon be as relevant to developing countries as it is today to developed countries, have also been given unprecedented attention, as the United Nations fulfils its essential role of putting tomorrow's issues on today's agenda.

    The recent Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development and the forthcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in Johannesburg stand out as particularly significant because the issues they cover have a direct impact on the achievement of all the goals set by the other conferences. The concept of sustainability that will be at the heart of Johannesburg must be applied to all our strategies. And the implementation of the commitments made at Monterrey to generate more resources for development remains urgent if we are to realize our goals. Together, Monterrey and Johannesburg lead us from the "what" to the "how" and from policy to action.

    Making an effective contribution to the realization of the goals set at the various UN conferences and the implementation of their plans of actions will test all the capacities of the Economic and Social Council for achieving policy coherence, monitoring progress and guiding the work of the UN system. This is by no means an easy task. We are dealing with a complex set of interconnected issues and a broad range of actors. Yet, as the Council has rightly decided, the follow-up must be done in an integrated fashion, lest the interconnections are lost and the sum becomes less than the parts. This is why the Economic and Social Council, as well as the Secretariat, must continue to improve their approach and their method of work.

    Already, I know, the Economic and Social Council has done much to strengthen itself. It has established a regular dialogue with the Bretton Woods institutions. In guiding the work of the functional commissions, it has focused on identifying common themes emerging from the conferences of the 1990s so as to promote greater coherence. It has helped to strengthen the Resident Coordinator system, and simplified rules and procedures for operational activities. The Economic and Social Council has also established very productive links with civil society and the private sector.

    The report of the Secretary-General, which will be introduced this morning by Mr. Civili, contains a number of additional suggestions which the Council may wish to consider.

    Our aim must be to make the Economic and Social Council the UN system's leading development forum a place where thinkers, policy-makers and practitioners can come together and provide intellectual leadership in development policy. It must ensure that actions taken by the various parts of the UN system are properly sequenced, coordinated and mutually reinforcing so as to maximize overall progress. Through its various segments, the Council has a unique capacity to orient and affect not only the analytical work of the system, but also its operational activities for development and its humanitarian work.

    The Economic and Social Council also has a responsibility to monitor progress towards the achievement of the goals set by the various conferences. Such monitoring provides the essential feedback against which policies and strategies can be assessed and adjusted as necessary. Its oversight of the Statistical Commission is particularly useful in this regard, as is its work with the funds and programmes that carry out country-level monitoring.

    One particular question you may wish to address is what are the respective roles of the Council and the General Assembly in relation to the economic and social parts of the Secretary-General's annual reports on the follow-up to the Millennium Declaration. It would be helpful in our opinion to define more clearly the division of labour between these two United Nations organs.

    As you are aware, the Secretary-General intends to submit to the General Assembly this coming September a number of proposals aimed at further strengthening the Organization, particularly in its work in the economic and social area. The starting point is the same as for the discussions you will have over the next few days: how to increase the effectiveness of the United Nations in the pursuit of the goals set by the Member States in the Millennium Assembly and the various conferences.

    The report will address a number of questions.

    Does the current programme of work respond adequately to the priorities set out in the Millennium Declaration and other major policy frameworks -- and if not, what issues would require greater attention over the coming years?

    Can the reports prepared for the General Assembly and other organs be improved to permit a more comprehensive and holistic consideration of the complex, interconnected issues we are grappling with, while reducing their number and length as much as possible?

    Is the division of labour among the various entities sufficiently clear, both as regards analytical work and technical assistance, so as to avoid duplication, provide greater transparency and develop real expertise in the entity best placed to assume the responsibility?

    How can the Organization's analytical capacity be strengthened so as to provide Member States with better input to their debate and ensure that the United Nations can play a strong leadership role on economic and social development issues?

    What steps need to be taken to further tighten coordination at the country level so that the United Nations, building on the significant achievements of the last five years, can continue to improve the quality and effectiveness of its services to Member States and fulfil the mandates given to it?

    Combined with the measures the Economic and Social Council itself is taking to reinforce its own procedures and approaches, I believe the pragmatic measures the Secretary-General intends to propose could help significantly to reinforce the impact of the UN's work in the social and economic area.

    I know this is a goal we all share. I hope your session is productive and leads to new improvements in the Council's work.

    In recent years, the Economic and Social Council has taken on new life, and is being rediscovered for the potential it offers as a catalyst for enlightened policy and creative partnerships. Let us do our utmost so that this revitalization continues, so that the Council and the United Nations in the broadest sense can better serve the world's peoples, and the benefits will be felt far beyond the walls of this room.

    Thank you very much.

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