10 January 2012
Economic and Social Council
ECOSOC/6490

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Economic and Social Council

2012 Organizational Session

1st Meeting (PM)


Work of Economic and Social Council ‘Vital’ to Achieving Global Solidarity for Era


of ‘Austerity and Uncertainty’, Says Secretary-General, Opening 2012 Session


Miloš Koterec of Slovakia Elected President for New Session; Says Sustainable

Development, Post-2015 Development Architecture Critical Themes for Year Ahead


As the United Nations embarked on an important year of milestone events, Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon said today that the work of the Economic and Social Council — the central forum for discussing and coordinating action on such issues as sustainable development, disaster risk reduction, and economic growth — would be vital in realizing his vision of global “solidarity for an era of austerity and uncertainty”.


“We must deepen our efforts to achieve the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, our main framework for development to 2015,” said the Secretary-General, as he opened the Council’s 2012 session with a call on the body to use the tools at its disposal, especially its Annual Ministerial Review and Development Cooperation Forum, to help ensure a successful outcome to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development — known as Rio+20 — and the broader effort to curb the impacts of climate change.


He said the Annual Ministerial Review and Development Cooperation Forum could promote wider engagement at all levels and encourage greater accountability for the international community’s commitments.  Along with taking forward progress on his priority initiative “Sustainable Energy for All”, the Forum, he added, should also have a central place in the development cooperation framework established to implement the recommendations of the recent High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Republic of Korea.


Recalling the set of “generational priorities” for action he had presented to the General Assembly this past September, the Secretary-General emphasized the instrumental role the Economic and Social Council could play in fostering better disaster-risk reduction and preparedness and building a safer and more secure world.  In the aftermath of last year’s “Arab Spring”, which he described as “a wake-up call for the world,” he said that Council could help support nations in transition by sharing its experiences in post-conflict peacebuilding, as well as the success of its ad hoc advisory groups with the Peacebuilding Commission.


Finally, he urged stepping up efforts to empower women and young people.  “Women are the bedrock of families, communities and societies.  Youth play a vital role in contributing to the process of sustainable development,” he said, calling for decent jobs and wider opportunities for women and young people to participate and thrive at all levels, in all contexts.  To that end, he said he was encouraged that this year, the Council’s Annual Ministerial Review would address that theme.


Speaking immediately after his election by acclamation, Council President Miloš Koterec, of Slovakia, said making the 54-member body a “truly meaningful organ” with the capacity to make a difference, called for a new approach.  That was especially true during the current economic uncertainty, which had greatly increased the Council’s role and relevance, he said, echoing the Secretary-General. 


“In 2012, the Economic and Social Council must carve out its niche as the forum for frank, free-flowing discourse on development cooperation”, he said, adding that the Council’s Development Cooperation Forum was ideally placed for that task.  While some were unsatisfied with the Forum’s biennial meeting schedule and its “limited toolkit”, such perceived limitations could in fact become strengths, if the Council cultivated itself as the place where fresh, game-changing ideas were incubated, new policies established and global partnerships formed.


As for the Council’s Annual Ministerial Review, he announced that in 2012, nine counties — Algeria, Brazil, Ecuador, Kenya, Mauritius, Qatar, Russian Federation, Senegal and Ukraine — would deliver National Voluntary Presentations.  However, despite that innovative mechanism’s past successes, “resting on our laurels is not an option”.  In that vein, he made several suggestions on ways to “tweak” the Review’s format, including “dual presentations” and more inclusive participation beyond Governments.


Two themes would compete for the Council’s attention in the year ahead, he continued:  sustainable development and the post-2015 development architecture.  In the sustainable development arena, the Rio+20 Conference must set its sights on changing the terms of the debate from neutralizing human influence on the planet to better managing and mitigating its impact.  A truly empowered Council could significantly contribute to solving that challenge, he said, adding that it was both well placed and well equipped to become the central place for follow-up to the Rio Conference.


Visionary thinking was also required when it came to the post-2015 framework.  The best aspects of the Millennium Development Goals must be retained, while a “sharpened focus” on outcomes and delivery should be adopted.  In this area as well, it was necessary to fully realize the potential of the Council, whose legitimacy, complementarity with other intergovernmental bodies and system-wide reach made it a naturally important actor in the system of global governance.


Outgoing Council President Lazarous Kapambwe of Zambia recounted the many successes of the Council’s 2011 session, but joined the other speakers urging the body to press ahead with efforts to “make itself seen”.  Calling on members to “start with the small, practical things”, he said that one such gesture would be to ensure that the President of the Economic and Social Council was given one of the special United Nations lapel pins worn by the President of the General Assembly and senior United Nations officials.  That, he said, would make the Council President recognizable and would avail him or her easy access to United Nations premises. 


More importantly, he said it is was his humble opinion that it would greatly help the Council measure up to its mandate if its President was elected on a one-year, full time basis with a budget and an appropriate staff structure.  Indeed, given the number of commissions, funds, programmes and other bodies that currently fall under it, the Council was unable to provide effective policy coordination and guidance or monitor implementation of decisions and policies with a “part-time President” and a small support Secretariat.  A full-time President with undivided focus would raise The Council’s visibility by responding to issues more quickly and representing the Council where its presence was needed.


Along with the election of President Koterec, the Council also elected by acclamation three Vice-Presidents:  Maged Abdelaziz of Egypt; Desra Percaya of Indonesia; and Juan Pablo de Laiglesia of Spain.  President Koterec informed members that consultations were still ongoing within the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States and that the election of a Vice-President from that region would take place at a letter date.


In other business, the Council, following tradition, set the seating arrangements for the new session by lottery.  By the results, Nigeria would take the first seat and be followed by Pakistan.  Seating of the remaining members would continue in the English alphabetical order.


The 54 members of the Economic and Social Council are:  Argentina; Australia; Bahamas; Bangladesh; Belarus; Brazil; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Canada; Chile; China; Comoros; Cuba; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; Egypt; El Salvador; Ethiopia; Finland; France; Gabon; Germany; Ghana; India; Iraq; Indonesia; Ireland; Italy; Japan; Latvia; Lesotho; Libya; Malawi; Mexico; Mongolia; Netherlands; Nicaragua; Nigeria; Norway; Pakistan; Philippines; Qatar; Republic of Korea; Russian Federation; Rwanda; Senegal; Spain; Switzerland; Turkey; Ukraine; United Kingdom; United States; and Zambia.


The Economic and Social Council will meet again at a date and time to be announced.


Statements


Outgoing President of the Economic and Social Council LAZAROUS KAPAMBWE (Zambia) said that as he handed over the reins of the Council to its new President, he would take the opportunity to provide a retrospective glimpse — at the world, briefly, in 2011, and at the Economic and Social Council in particular.  At the start of the past year, mass uprisings had swept across North Africa and the Middle East.  In March the most powerful earthquake in Japan’s history unleashed a giant tsunami, killing 19,000 people, sweeping away entire towns and villages, and exposing the country to a nuclear-meltdown at the Fukushima power plant.


He said that Europe’s unfolding debt crisis had destabilised financial markets more than at any point since the worst of the 2008 financial crisis.  A major drought had ravaged the Horn of Africa, causing numerous deaths and threatening 10 million people.  “Frustration became a pandemic, with protests everywhere — including right here in this city,” he said.


In what he called “a year of turbulence,” he said that the Economic and Social Council had more than ever needed to deliver on its mandate as the pre-eminent forum for addressing social, economic and humanitarian issues.  It was fitting that the 54-member body had chosen education — the key to self-employment — as the theme for the year.  Ministers and other prominent statesmen together, including former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, along with a record 1,400 representatives from business and civil society, had participated in the high-level segment of the Council’s substantive session in Geneva last July.  


“We heard stories of education progress, such as in sub-Saharan Africa, where enrolment ratios surged by one third over the past decade despite a large increase in the region’s primary school age population,” he continued, adding that participants had also heard about education in crisis:  the 67 million children who remained out of school worldwide; the 800 million illiterate adults; the stubborn gender gap in enrolment; and the scandalously poor quality of education provided to many youth who did attend school.  At the Council’s prodding, delegations had adopted an ambitious Ministerial Declaration; one which sought to tackle both education access and quality, thereby moving a step closer to correcting a situation, in the words of Mr. Brown, of “broken promises, broken dreams, broken trust.”


He went on to say that, while education had been front and centre throughout the Council’s Annual Ministerial Review and national voluntary presentations, the substantive session had tackled other issues, including through its Coordination Segment, which had articulated further ways to boost the role of the United Nations in global economic governance, as a complement to other prevailing mechanisms.  This year’s humanitarian affairs segment had shown the Council at its best, with delegations sounding the alarm on the spiralling food crisis in the Horn of Africa and on the many challenges facing the young South Sudan.


Beyond the Substantive Session, the Council, he said, had used its weight and prestige to support last February’s “Philanthropy in Education” event.  In June, the Council and the Peacebuilding Commission had held a critical joint meeting on South Sudan.  Other highlights of 2011 included the first-ever joint Council and Second Committee meetings on job creation and the ongoing world economic and financial crises.  Also, the Council had held extensive dialogue with the Bretton Woods institutions throughout the year. 


To highlight what the Economic and Social Council “got right” in 2011 was not, in any way, to minimize what it could do better.  Far from it, for if the Council was to assume its role on the world stage — “a goal we all share” — change was essential.  “[The Economic and Social Council] must be relevant and must be seen to be so by all stakeholders,” he said.  To that end, he noted, that the Council had tried its best in 2011 to publicize its work with a wealth of initiatives including:  a month-long, web-based forum on education challenges, a revamped Facebook page, effective Twitter and YouTube campaigns, a well-received “Innovation Fair” in Geneva, “and our new [Economic and Social Council] e-book, freely available anywhere with a click of the mouse”.  He followed this with a short video preview, prepared jointly by the Departments of Public Information and General Assembly Affairs and Conference Management.


Looking ahead, he said that he believed the Council should become a strong, respectable and recognizable brand.  That had been the spirit behind the “Conversations with Nobel Laureates” series which the body had begun, inspired by the discussion it had with Professor Joseph Stiglitz last November.  On 7 February, the “ECOSOC Conversations with Nobel Laureates” would feature prominent figures in a special briefing session entitled “Interactive dialogue on the current economic and financial situation”.  The “Conversations” should not be restricted to Nobel Laureates in Economics.  They should cover the entire spectrum of the matters that are under the Council’s mandate. 


He went on to explain that there was a Zambian saying which stated:  “Ubukwebo bushimonwa, tabushitwa”, which meant “merchandize that is not seen or advertised is not bought.  [The Economic and Social Council] must be seen, must make itself seen.”  To proceed with efforts to raise the Council’s profile, he urged members to “start with the small, practical things”.  One such gesture would be to ensure that the President of the Economic and Social Council was given one of the special United Nations lapel pins worn by the President of the General Assembly and senior United Nations officials.  That, he said, would make the Council President recognizable and would avail him or her easy access to United Nations premises.  “This pin will become part of the instruments of office that an outgoing [Economic and Social Council] President hands over to the incoming President,” he added.


Second, he said that around the premises of the Economic and Social Council Chamber — especially after the renovation of the main building — there should be established a wall on which pictures of the former Presidents should be displayed, in the same way as a Wall of Honour exists for the Secretaries-General and Presidents of the General Assembly.  Third and more importantly, it is was his humble opinion that it would greatly help the Council measure up to its mandate if its President is elected on a one-year full-time basis, with a budget and an appropriate staff structure.


Indeed, given the number of commissions, funds, programmes and other bodies that currently fall under it, the Council was unable to provide effective policy coordination and guidance or monitor implementation of decisions and policies with a “part-time President” and a small support Secretariat.  As a result, all the reports received from subsidiary bodies were merely given perfunctory, rather than full, meaningful consideration.  “A full-time President with undivided focus would raise [The Council’s] visibility by responding to issues more quickly and representing Council where its presence is needed.”


The new President of the Council, MILOŠ KOTEREC of Slovakia, welcomed the outgoing President’s vision and his work to strengthen the body and expand its influence.  Indeed, he said, making the Economic and Social Council a “truly meaningful organ” with the capacity to make a difference called for a new approach.  That was especially true during the current economic uncertainty, which had greatly increased the Council’s role and relevance. 


Turning to the year ahead, he shared ideas and observations in several areas of the Council’s work.  In the sphere of development cooperation, he began, “the landscape has changed beyond recognition”.  Gone was the old binary division where rich nations dispensed aid and poor ones received it.  Fewer countries were destitute and thus eligible for cheap loans.  At the same time as two thirds of the world’s poorest people now lived in middle-income countries.  Likewise, traditional donors no longer dominated giving, with new emerging donors and private sources becoming increasingly important and innovative.


“In 2012, [the Economic and Social Council] must carve out its niche as the forum for frank, free-flowing discourse on development cooperation”, he said, adding that the Council’s Development Cooperation Forum was ideally placed for that task.  While some were unsatisfied with the Forum’s infrequent biennial meetings and its “limited toolkit”, those perceived limitations could in fact become strengths if the Council cultivated itself as the place where fresh, game-changing ideas were incubated, new policies established and global partnerships formed.


Another important innovation, the Council’s Annual Ministerial Review, had achieved successes with Governments eager to share their development experiences.  In 2012, nine countries — Algeria, Brazil, Ecuador, Kenya, Mauritius, Qatar, Russian Federation, Senegal and Ukraine — would deliver national voluntary presentations.  However, he said, despite such success “resting on our laurels is not an option”.  In that vein, he made several suggestions on ways to “tweak” the Review’s format, including “dual presentations” and more inclusive participation beyond Governments.


Two themes would compete for the Council’s attention in the year ahead, he continued:  sustainable development and the post-2015 development architecture.  In the sustainable development arena, the Rio+20 Conference must set its sights on “changing the terms of debate” from neutralizing human influence on the planet to better managing and mitigating its impact.  A truly empowered Economic and Social Council could significantly contribute to solving that challenge, he said, adding that the Council was both well placed and well equipped to become the central place for follow-up to Rio+20.


Visionary thinking was also required when it came to the post-2015 framework.  The best aspects of the Millennium Development Goals must be retained, while a “sharpened focus” on outcomes and delivery should be adopted.  In that area as well, it was necessary to fully realize the potential of the Council, whose legitimacy, complementarity with other intergovernmental bodies and system-wide reach made it a naturally important actor in the system of global governance.  For his part, the President said, he personally favoured developing constructive dialogue with the Group of 20 (G-20).


Meanwhile, the Council should seek to improve is work, including by continuing its review of resolution 61/16 (2007) and by strengthening its ties with the Bretton Woods Institutions, the private sector and civil society.  In addition, he said, the Council could contribute to system-wide efforts to pursue an integrated approach to peace and development by strengthening its cooperation with both the Peacebuilding Commission and the Security Council.  Strengthening the Economic and Social Council was not a one time event but a long process which “I am determined to lead this year with true vigour and dedication.”


BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General, said that 2012 would be an important year, with many milestone events on the Organization’s calendar, especially the late June Rio+20 Conference.  Immediately after that gathering, the Council would hold two very timely events:  its Annual Ministerial Review and its Development Cooperation Forum.  “Let us make the most of these opportunities,” he said.


At the opening of the current session of the General Assembly, he had set out a vision for the next five years — what he called “a vision of solidarity in an era of austerity and uncertainty”.  The Economic and Social Council was instrumental in tackling the five global imperatives he had outlined, most important among those, ensuring sustainable development for all.  “We must deepen our efforts to achieve the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, our main framework for development to 2015.  We must intensify our efforts to ensure a successful outcome at Rio,” he said, adding that the Council also had an important role to play in tackling climate change, especially building on progress achieved over the past five years towards the organization’s new initiative:  sustainable energy for all.


The Secretary-General said that the Annual Ministerial Review and the Development Cooperation Forum could promote wider levels of engagement at all levels, and could encourage greater accountability for the international community’s commitments.  He went on to recall that he had cited prevention as another great opportunity, and in that regard, the Council’s role in deliberating on humanitarian emergencies, and in coordinating international activities following natural disasters, was therefore important.


As for a third imperative — building a safer and more secure world — the United Nations had been sorely tested last year around the world, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Afghanistan, South Sudan, the Middle East, Somalia, and elsewhere.  “We know that addressing such critical priorities such as decent work, migration, population pressures, and other issues provides the underpinning for development,” he said, stressing that the Council’s role in promoting global dialogue on economic and social issues in post-conflict countries could help achieve the Organization’s goals.


Turning to his fourth opportunity for international action, supporting nations in transition, he said that last year’s “Arab Spring” had been a wake-up call for the world.  The transition from recovery to development was a crucial period for any country.  The United Nations could support countries in transition by working to restore justice and build up public institutions and services.  The Council could support such transitions by sharing its experiences in post-conflict peacebuilding, as well as the success of its ad hoc advisory groups with the Peacebuilding Commission.


“Fifth, we can accelerate our efforts by empowering women and young people.  Women are the bedrock of families, communities and societies.  Youth play a vital role in contributing to the process of sustainable development,” he said, urging Council members to find ways to create decent jobs and wider opportunities for women and young people to participate and thrive at all levels, in all contexts.  He added that he was encouraged to note that the 2012 Annual Ministerial Review would address that theme.


Finally, he emphasized that as the international community sought responses to those extraordinary challenges, solidarity would be needed above all else.  In that regard, he pledged the full support of the Secretariat in the Council’s work and he wished the body a most productive 2012 substantive session.


U. JOY OGWU (Nigeria) said that her delegation recognized the outstanding achievements and increasing relevance of the Council’s work in 2011, including its adoption of a Ministerial Declaration on education, a resolution on the report of the tenth session of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration, which had focused on public administration and development, and a resolution on the review of United Nations support for the small island developing States.  The review of Council resolution 61/16 stressed that the 54-member body would maintain the current structure of its substantive session, including the continued promotion of global dialogue through the strengthening of existing arrangements, as well as the special high-level meeting with the Bretton Woods institutions, World Trade Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).


Looking ahead, she said it would be essential for the Council to improve on the “remarkable progress” of the previous year, especially strengthening the level of participation in its work and deepening engagement with the Bretton Woods Institutions, among others.  To that end, she stressed that there was a need to highlight the involvement of finance ministers and other relevant Government officials in the Council’s deliberations.


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For information media • not an official record