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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Vienna (Austria)

25 April 2008


Remarks at a forum on “The United Nations and the European Union: Joining Forces for the Challenges of the 21st Century”

It is a great pleasure for me to meet all of you today. I may not remember your names, but I know many of you. I hope at least you may recognize me by this time, if not by name, by face. I am in the process of promoting myself as Secretary-General [laughter]. Now, I will briefly talk about the partnership between the European Union and the United Nations. I think this topic is very timely, and I would really like to discuss it with you, as I believe that the United Nations partnership with the European Union is much more important than many may think.

In accordance with Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter, we are having very cooperative relationships with many regional organizations. Among many organizations, I regard the United Nations cooperation, and relationship, and partnership, with the European Union as one of the most important. We have been working together in many areas of our life, of our work -- starting from conflict prevention to peacekeeping, from humanitarian assistance to development, from climate change, to health and human rights, and now the food crisis issues.

The European Union and the United Nations share common objectives and goals to realize all the important pillars of the United Nations Charter. We have been working together and we will continue to do so, to reach the goals of peace and security and development and human rights. If I may just cite some statistics that Minister Plassnik just mentioned. The European Union is one of the most significant donors to the United Nations operations, funding almost 40 per cent of the regular United Nations budget, two tenths of the United Nations peacekeeping operations and close to half of the United Nations Member States' contributions to the United Nations funds and programmes. The European Union, its resources, creativity and inspiring examples of the union of more than 500 million people, prove to the world that human security and prosperity can be achieved through transnational cooperation.

You are also a great example to many of the countries in the world who have still not fully recovered from regional conflicts, which perhaps have not yet been able to transcend their geographical boundaries, and historical or ethnic or religious boundaries. You have gone through this very successful integration process, 27 European Union Member States -- transcending all these historical and political and national geographical boundaries -- as the most successful example in the history of humankind.

Today, both of our institutions are facing an acute and growing challenge that is now manifested around the world. A number of factors both from the demand and supply side have led to an unprecedented increase in the price of food commodities around the globe. Let me tell you about this food crisis issue, which has suddenly, since two or three years, surfaced as one very important global challenge.

As I say to all of you, I am deeply concerned about the very serious negative impact this has on many of the United Nations programmes and the international community's work, on the Millennium Development Goals, on global warming issues and so forth. It affects the poorest of the poor in the world. It has driven an additional 100 million people into another dimension of hunger and poverty. The World Food Programme recently announced an urgent appeal to the international community to fill this gap in resources amounting to more than $700 million. This is a short-term gap, which we must fill, and we must address this issue in a comprehensive way.

There is no single reason for the rise in food prices. We cannot determine one single cause. It may be the increase in the price of petroleum products; there may be differences in consumption patterns in many major developing economies like China and India; and there may be global warming-related effects from long periods of drought or flooding, which may then have resulted in a significant decrease in production. There may be many other reasons. These days, some people cite the case of biofuels. But there is no such trade-off between agriculture and biofuels. This is exactly why we need to have a comprehensive, holistic approach.

Two days ago, in Ghana, I announced during an UNCTAD [UN Conference on Trade and Development] meeting that I will, on an urgent basis, establish a task force comprising globally eminent experts and leaders and authorities who will address this issue and help find middle and short-term and long-term measures.

This issue is very closely interlinked with development issues, climate change, food prices, our fight against disease and other equally important areas. Not being able to eat when you are hungry, when you are suffering from abject poverty and hunger, you are very vulnerable to disease. And if we do not address this issue, we will lose the capacity to address global warming. We will not be able to realize our Millennium Development Goals. This has been a global challenge, so we need to address it in a collective way -- globally.

In this context, I welcome the recent statement by the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel, who has shown real leadership by announcing an additional $60 million in fresh funding for immediate food assistance. Such funding is desperately needed to fill the gap of some $750 million required to address this very serious humanitarian issue. I also applaud the leadership of the European Parliament for drawing political attention to the issue and advocating a strong European response.

The United Nations stands ready to step-up its partnership with the European Union, including with the European Commission, to address both the short-term, middle and long-term course of action, to deliver a sustainable solution. We can help ensure that poor farmers have the inputs they need to plant during the right farming season. Otherwise, we will confront a much larger set of challenges and we may have to pay an even higher price.

The United Nations and the European Union have been cooperating fully and very closely in addressing climate change issues. You have exercised leadership by example, by agreeing on a 20 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Whenever I met European leaders, when I was talking about global warming issues, the Millennium Development Goals or regional conflict issues, I have said to them: the European Union should play the role of a locomotive. You should pull from the front and push from the back of this big train.

The European Union is a group of entities, countries, which can be this power engine. You should pull and push the international community's common efforts. That is what the United Nations should be doing, but the United Nations depends on the resources of Member States. The United Nations cannot act as a national Government. It is just an intergovernmental body, and dependent on others' resources.

What I can do as Secretary-General is to advocate and galvanize political will and mobilize as many resources as possible through the cooperation of the European Union, Americans and major emerging economies. But the European Union should be the leader on this issue, pulling and pushing this big train. This is my appeal to all of you, and I will continue to urge European leaders in the future to remain fully engaged.

Let me tell you something about the Millennium Development Goals, which are also very important. We are passing through a mid-point year. By 2015, the whole world must be able to claim that we have reached the targets of the Millennium Development Goals. This is the blueprint that your leaders agreed to, eight years ago. We have only seven years left. Unless we rededicate ourselves, unless we recommit ourselves, unless we have all African countries on board, we may not be able to do that.

There has been some scepticism that these MDG goals from the beginning were unachievable. Our leaders believed then that they were achievable. That's why they agreed by consensus. Our performance record at this point does not show such positive prospects. But if we rededicate ourselves and galvanize political will and mobilize resources, we can call them achievable goals. That is why I am going to convene a summit meeting on 25 September during the General Assembly session. I was encouraged by President [Heinz] Fischer that he would consider participating.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are now many more challenges coming up, and I am frustrated and troubled that we have still not been able to see many of the African countries, and others in many parts of the world, recovering from regional conflicts. For example, in Darfur, in Somalia, we have not seen much good governance, nor have we seen much democratic good governance in Kenya or Zimbabwe.

Those are some of the challenges on which the European Union and the United Nations must work together, as we share common objectives and goals. And for the United Nations to realize these objectives and goals, we need the strong support and partnership of the European Union. In that regard, I feel it is very appropriate and timely for me to address the leading personalities of Austria, who have shown strong support for the United Nations and have been actively participating in many agendas of the United Nations. And I need that support. Thank you very much.