Global Policy Forum

Reform of ECOSOC and the Social and Economic Policy Process at the UN

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The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is the principal UN body coordinating the economic and social work of the organization. Unlike its twin – the Security Council – ECOSOC enjoys little authority in international policymaking. The UN charter places ECOSOC under the authority of the General Assembly, allowing the body to issue policy recommendations to the UN system and member states. However, other international institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have assumed leadership in the field of global economic policy. However, as many critics have pointed out, these institutions lack democratic processes, transparency, and accountability, and they represent richer states' interests over poor countries' development. Some reform advocates argue that the 54 member council is too large for constructive negotiations, and should be replaced with a smaller more efficient "Social and Economic Security Council."

GPF Perspectives | UN Documents | Articles

GPF Perspectives

The Dilemma of G8 Protest (June 6, 2007)

Although the mobilization of activists at the 2007 Heiligendamm G8 summit gave "unprecedented" media exposure to the social justice movement, it had the unfortunate side effect of lending attention and legitimacy to the group of eight major industrial nations. Jens Martens of Global Policy Forum argues that, in making such broad demands as "save the climate" and "solve the problems of Africa," civil society groups reinforce the idea of G8 members as "omnipotent saviors of the universe." Martens proposes the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as a more equitable and democratic policy making body. But the G8 leaders, who are a minority among ECOSOC's 54 members, have prevented the council from gaining the necessary authority. (Global Policy Forum)

The Reform of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC): A Never-Ending Story? (November 14, 2006)

In light of the need for an international body with sufficient legitimacy and authority to make inclusive and effective decisions on world social and economic affairs, Global Policy Forum's Jens Martens outlines the history of proposals to reform ECOSOC. Due to its lack of decision-making power and inappropriate size, reforming ECOSOC or establishing an alternative has been a recurrent issue of debate. Martens concludes this piece with hopeful expectations for the proposal to establish a "Global Leaders Forum" within the framework of ECOSOC, as set forth by the High-level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence in its November 2006 report. (World Economy & Development/Global Policy Forum)

The Development Agenda after the 2005 Millennium+5 Summit (November 2005)

This briefing paper analyzes the outcome document of the Millenniun+5 Summit and the role of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The proposal to make ECOSOC a sort of "MDG Council" could contribute to strengthen the institution. However, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and the World Bank still exert more power over global economic issues. (Global Policy Forum and Friedrich Ebert Foundation)

The United Nations and Global Social-Economic Policy: Global Keynesianism for a New Era (October, 1996)

An analytical essay published by Global Policy Forum Executive Director James A. Paul.

UN Documents

Global Governance at the Beginning of the 21st Century: What is the Role of the United Nations? (August 8, 2011)

In this speech, President Deiss of the General Assembly warns of the UN’s potential marginalization as a main actor in global governance by ad hoc organizations such as the G-20. The G-20 may be more effective than the UN in making quick decisions in tumultuous circumstances such as the financial crisis, but lacks the legitimacy only the UN can provide. According to Deiss, the UN should be strengthened as an umbrella organization for global governance through specific reforms. Its organization can then connect the G-20’s “leadership” to the “expertise” of specialized agencies such as the IMF and the World Bank and provide decision-making with its “unique legitimacy”. (UN News Service

UN Secretary General's Address to the Economic and Social Council (January 17, 2007)

In his first address to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon outlined five recommendations to make the Council stronger and more effective. He encouraged ECOSOC to "take a leading role" in helping member states achieve the Millennium Development Goals by providing a forum for multilateral discussions and coordination of global development efforts. (United Nations)

Draft Resolution: Strengthening of the Economic and Social Council (November 15, 2006)

This UN draft resolution calls for a strengthened UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and emphasizes the Council's role as the central coordinator of UN social and economic policies, responsible for following up on commitments made at major UN conferences and summits. The resolution decides that ECOSOC should hold annual ministerial level meetings, as well as establish a biennial high-level ˜Development Cooperation Forum.' Also ECOSOC should promote "global dialogue" through existing arrangements including the special high-level meeting with the Bretton Woods Institutions, the World Trade Organization and the UN Conference on Trade and Development. (United Nations)

Enhancing the Development Role and Impact of UNCTAD (June, 2006)

This report of a reform panel on the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) emphasizes the need to concentrate on its "effective and efficient functioning," which may be a disguised way of strengthening neo-liberal trends within this once very creative body. The report contains 21 recommendations, calling on the UN body to improve "coordination" and "communication" with other agencies. This may be a coded reference to closer ties with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. (United Nations)

Working Paper on Implementation of the 2005 World Summit Decisions Regarding Economic and Social Council (October 2005)

The outcome document of the UN Millennium+5 Summit recognized the central role that the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) plays in achieving development goals. According to this working paper from Ambassador Munir Akram, President of ECOSOC, the Council should improve its partnership with countries, hold a biennial high level Development Cooperation Forum, address humanitarian emergencies and work more closely with the Peacebuilding Commission in order to fully perform its role. (United Nations)

Excerpt of the 2005 World Summit Outcome (September 15, 2005)

At the 2005 World Summit, governments recognized the need to make the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) a more effective body. In order to achieve this goal, ECOSOC will hold a biennial high level Development Cooperation Forum to review its strategies, policies and financing, and will have a major role in addressing humanitarian emergencies. However, the international financial institutions maintain a stranglehold on monetary, financial and trade policy issues. This risks leaving ECOSOC toothless in dealing with social and economic issues. (United Nations)

Excerpt of Kofi Annan's Report on UN Reform: In Larger Freedom (March 21, 2005)

This excerpt from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's report includes recommendations for reforming the Economic and Social Council. In order to assert leadership and provide direction for various intergovernmental bodies, the Council needs to adopt a more flexible structure and have an effective and representative mechanism for "engaging its counterparts in the institutions dealing with finance and trade," says the report. (United Nations)



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Harris Gleckman has published an article titled ‘ECOSOC’s New Role and Its Old Culture’. The article written for iisd surrounds the extensive reforms made to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). After the latest reform resolution, four distinct new elements to ECOSOC have appeared following the governments agreement on new operating rules for the council.


Strengthening the Relationship between ECOSOC and the Bretton Woods Institutions for a Coherent and Effective Financial and Economic Architecture (February 2009)

The Institute for Global Policy proposes to create a new body within the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to lead global economic and financial policy making. The proposal places the Bretton Woods Institutions inside ECOSOC, using the existing mandate in the UN Charter which empowers ECOSOC to coordinate the activities of the Bretton Woods Institutions. ECOSOC would elect the 19 members of the body and, together with the General Assembly, approve its decisions. This would create a legitimate decision making power for economic and financial policy without demanding costly and slow amendments to the UN Charter. (Institute for Global Policy)


Will a Resolution to Strengthen Environmental Activities Be Adopted this Year? (November 10, 2008)

UN member countries have discussed a draft resolution on strengthening the environmental activities in the world body. Among other things, it proposes to upgrade UNEP to a Specialized Agency. But countries disagree on what activities the UN should focus on. Poor countries want more funding for improving their own capacity to deal with environmental problems. The EU and the US, on the other hand, want to spend less money and see the reform as a way to make the UN more cost efficient. (Center for UN Reform Education)


Reinventing UNCTAD (February 20, 2006)

Although United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) policies enjoyed strong support from poor countries for decades, rich countries have dismantled the organization's efforts to "build a stable, viable and genuinely democratic international community." In this South Centre report, former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali describes the necessary steps to turn the organization back into a platform that promotes equality and sustainable development among all countries. (South Centre)

Co-Chairs Issue Draft Resolution on ECOSOC Reform With Elements Introduced for a Draft Resolution on Development (January 31, 2006)

The UN General Assembly Draft Resolution on ECOSOC Reform focuses on enhancing the UN Economic and Social Council's (ECOSOC) role in coordinating global economic affairs. It encourages a stronger coordination with the Bretton Woods Institutions, the World Trade Organization and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Also, the draft asks governments to support a powerful link between ECOSOC and the Peacebuilding Commission. (ReformtheUN)

Integrating Environment and Development by 2015 (2006)

As a "significant cause of poverty and an obstacle to development," environmental damage has a worldwide impact. This discussion paper on UN reform describes sustainable environmental action as a "make or break opportunity for the UN." According to the paper, member states should modify the UN's institutional structure to influence environment-related decisions by international financial institutions, the World Trade Organization and UN groups. (Northern Alliance for Sustainability, Greenpeace, WWF)


UN Faulted for Jettisoning Development Agenda (July 6, 2005)

The United Nations is increasingly focusing its attention away from development, concentrating instead on terrorism, human rights, and peacekeeping. This shift has prompted poor countries to accuse wealthy states of hijacking the UN agenda. While wealthy nations such as the US put "development at the bottom of the priority list" under security and democracy, poor nations can only realize these goals of security and political stability "within the overall framework of development." (Inter Press Service)

L20 and ECOSOC Reform: Complementary Building Blocks for Inclusive Global Governance and a More Effective UN (June 2005)

As emerging powers of the global South gain new prominence, the current global governance structure is losing legitimacy. The Group of Eight does not include all the relevant world players, the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has limited influence. This article calls for reform of the system of global governance, including a stronger link between Security Council initiatives and ECOSOC, reflecting the economic root causes of conflict and the close connection between development and peacebuilding. (German Development Institute)

Strengthening of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) (March 2, 2005)

The 15-nation Group of Friends for the United Nations Reform puts forward guidelines for ECOSOC to "respond to the need for better governance and coherence." The Group argues for expanding links with civil society and the private sector, evaluating countries' implementation of commitments, organizing a more flexible calendar and eliminating work duplication. (Group of Friends for the United Nations Reform)

The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (February 2005)

Over the last decades, the General Assembly and many NGOs proposed diverse reforms of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). This publication argues that the UN should specify ECOSOC's mandate to make it more efficient and avoid overlap with other UN programmes and agencies. "Incremental changes" rather than radical reforms can strengthen ECOSOC's role in economic and social policy guidance and coordination, bringing the institution closer to its original mandate. (Friedrich Ebert Foundation)


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