Global Policy Forum

Excerpt of Kofi Annan's Report on UN Reform

March 21, 2003

Economic and Social Council

171. The Charter of the United Nations gives the Economic and Social Council a range of important functions that involve coordination, policy review and policy dialogue. Most of these seem more critical than ever in this age of globalization, in which a comprehensive United Nations development agenda has emerged from the summits and conferences of the 1990s. More than ever, the United Nations needs to be able to develop and implement policies in this area in a coherent manner. The functions of the Council are generally thought to be uniquely relevant to these challenges, but it has not as yet done justice to them.

172. In 1945, the framers of the Charter did not give the Economic and Social Council enforcement powers. Having agreed at Bretton Woods in the previous year to create powerful international financial institutions and expecting that these would be complemented by a world trade organization in addition to the various specialized agencies, they clearly intended that international economic decision-making would be decentralized. But this only makes the Council's potential role as coordinator, convener, forum for policy dialogue and forger of consensus the more important. It is the only organ of the United Nations explicitly mandated by the Charter to coordinate the activities of the specialized agencies and to consult with non-governmental organizations. And it has a network of functional and regional commissions operating under its aegis which are increasingly focused on the implementation of development goals.

173. The Economic and Social Council has put these assets to good use in the recent years, building bridges through an annual special high-level meeting with the trade and financial institutions, for instance, and establishing a unique Information and Communications Technology Task Force. It has also contributed to linking the issues of security and development by establishing country-specific groups.

174. These initiatives have helped to promote greater coherence and coordination among various actors, but there are still visible gaps to be addressed.

175. First, there is an increasing need to integrate, coordinate and review the implementation of the United Nations development agenda that has emerged from the world conferences and summits. To this end, the Economic and Social Council should hold annual ministerial-level assessments of progress towards agreed development goals, particularly the Millennium Development Goals. These assessments could be based on peer reviews of progress reports prepared by member States, with support from United Nations agencies and the regional commissions.

176. Second, there is a need to review trends in international development cooperation, promote greater coherence among the development activities of different actors and strengthen the links between the normative and operational work of the United Nations system. To address this gap, the Economic and Social Council should serve as a high-level development cooperation forum. Such a forum could be held biennially by transforming the high-level segment of the Council.

177. Third, there is a need to address economic and social challenges, threats and crises as and when they occur. To this end, the Council should convene timely meetings, as required, to assess threats to development, such as famines, epidemics and major natural disasters, and to promote coordinated responses to them.

178. Fourth, there is a need to systematically monitor and deal with the economic and social dimensions of conflicts. The Economic and Social Council has tried to fulfil this need by establishing country-specific ad hoc advisory groups. But given the scale and the challenge of long-term recovery, reconstruction and reconciliation, ad hoc arrangements are not enough. The Economic and Social Council should institutionalize its work in post-conflict management by working with the proposed Peacebuilding Commission. It should also reinforce its links with the Security Council in order to promote structural prevention.

179. Finally, while the normative and strategy-setting role of the Economic and Social Council is clearly different from the managerial and policy-making role played by the governing bodies of the various international institutions, I would hope that, as the Council starts to assert leadership in driving a global development agenda it will be able to provide direction for the efforts of the various intergovernmental bodies in this area throughout the United Nations system.

180. Implementing all these recommendations would require the Economic and Social Council to function with a new and more flexible structure, not necessarily restricted by the current annual calendar of "segments" and "substantive session". In addition, the Council needs an effective, efficient and representative intergovernmental mechanism for engaging its counterparts in the institutions dealing with finance and trade. This could either be achieved by expanding its Bureau or by establishing an Executive Committee with a regionally balanced composition.

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



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