15 February 2006

Social Development Commission Begins Examination of Work Methods Aimed at Improving Implementation of UN Conference Outcomes

NEW YORK, 14 February (UN Headquarters) -- The Commission for Social Development this morning began its examination of its methods of work, in light of last year's decision by the Economic and Social Council to organize the Commission's work in a series of two-year, action-oriented implementation cycles that would include a review segment and a policy segment.

Introducing the note by the Secretariat on the issue, Johan Schölvinck, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, recalled that the General Assembly, at its fifty-seventh session, had requested each functional commission of the Council to examine its methods of work, in order to better pursue implementation of the outcome of the major United Nations conferences and summits.

He said the decision taken last year by the Council, contained in resolution 2005/11, meant that the Commission would follow the work cycle of the Commission on Sustainable Development, which implemented the two-year cycle for its 2004-2005 sessions.  The Council also decided that the Commission for Social Development should include in its work, a consideration of the nature of its outcomes, and the choice of themes for the 2007-2008 cycle.

In order to fulfil its mandate, he said, the Commission, beginning with its forty-fifth session in 2007, would organize the first part of its work in a series of two-year, action-oriented cycles.  The second part of the work of the Commission would continue to be devoted to its review of plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups, taking into account also the chosen theme of the review and policy sessions.  The note outlined the possible modalities for both the review and policy sessions.  The review session would focus on progress or regress in the implementation of the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action.  The proposal for the outcome of the review session was a Chairperson's summary.

The policy session, which would take place in the second year of the cycle, would focus on decisions on how to overcome constraints and barriers to the implementation process, he said.  It could be devoted to interactive round table and panel discussions, followed by a high-level segment.  The proposal for the outcome of the policy session was a negotiated document, which would identify policy options and practical measures intended to facilitate implementation of the Copenhagen commitments.

The note proposed that each cycle of the Commission address, beginning in 2007 at the forty-fifth session, one of the three core issues of the World Summit for Social Development:  eradicating poverty, promoting full employment and fostering social integration.  It was hoped, moreover, that the focus on a core issue of the Summit over a two-year cycle would enable the Commission to go into greater depth, by also addressing cross-cutting issues and linkages with other issues relevant to the theme under discussion.

The Secretariat, he said, had proposed "promoting full employment" as the theme for the 2007/2008 cycle.  The 2005 World Summit had called for the goals of full employment and decent work for all to be a central objective of national and international policies.  In addition, the high-level segment of the 2006 substantive session of the Council would be on employment.  Thus, it was felt the United Nations as a whole, and the Commission in particular, had an opportunity to engage in the debate on employment issues in a much broader and more energetic way than it had thus far.

In the discussion that followed, Cuba's representative asked whether the Commission had considered having a negotiated outcome for both the review and the policy sessions.  He had the impression that one of the Commission's intentions was to give its work greater weight politically within the United Nations.  That could be achieved by having an ongoing high-level segment, in which a large number of personalities participated.  If the Chairman's summary was important, it should have a negotiated outcome, thereby affording the Commission's work greater relevance.  The commission should be a deliberative body and the negotiated outcome should be of practical use.  The Commission's work should lead to a negotiated outcome.

The representative of Austria asked how the Commission planned to organize the review and policy sessions.  At the moment, the Commission spent the first three days of its session in formal meetings, followed by time for informal sessions.  It might be that the Commission did not need as much time for informal sessions and could concentrate more on the priority theme.  Did the Secretariat plan to set aside more time for interactive dialogue and panel discussions? she asked.

India's representative asked if a high-level session was envisaged only for the policy session.  Would it be a flexible arrangement?

Responding, Mr. Schölvinck said the idea was that the review session would not have a negotiated outcome, but would be a "stocktaking" exercise.  Following the review session there would be a policy session, which would result in a negotiated document.  Social groups would be part and parcel of the Commission's work, and it was entirely possible to have resolutions under those items.  While there would be less time in the review session to come to a negotiated outcome if desired by the Commission, there would be a considerable amount of time for panel discussions and dialogue.  The time saved would be for interaction or stocktaking.  In the policy session, although round tables were planned, time would be more limited, as the Commission would have to arrive at a negotiated outcome.  The Secretariat would try to come up with the maximum amount of dialogues, debates and interactive discussion.

The number of days for the review and policy sessions would be the same, he added.  Regarding the issue of high-level participation, he said one could not force high-level representatives to come to New York.  However, he hoped the topics chosen would be of sufficient interest to attract such representation.

Whether the Commission should have a negotiated outcome in both the review and policy sessions was up to the Commission, he said.  Functional commissions were technical bodies of the Economic and Social Council.  Review sessions provided an opportunity for experts, not necessarily ministers, to discuss constraints in implementing the Copenhagen Declaration, while the policy session provided an opportunity for high-level officials to come up with a negotiated outcome, a more political document.  It was up to the Commission to come to an agreement.

Providing a context for today's discussion, South Africa's representative said that most of the elements contained in the Secretariat's report were based on what had happened last year.  At that time, the Commission had faced a number of challenges, namely related to the issue of time.  The outcome of the text produced last year made reference to participation "at an appropriate level".  Some delegations thought they could not afford to send ministers to New York every year.  Another major concern had been the level of participation during the Commission's annual sessions.  It had been felt that a policy-level ministerial session would lead to more enthusiastic participation in the Commission.

For background on the Commission's forty-fourth session, see Press Release SOC/4692 issued on 2 February.

The next plenary meeting of the Commission will be at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 16 February, to hear the introduction of all draft proposals.

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