Statement of Mr. José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations to the Helsinki Conference on Mobilizing Political Will
Helsinki, 8 September 2005

“We believe that the central challenge we face today is to ensure that globalization becomes a positive force for all the world’s people”. This statement of world leaders five years ago in the United Nations Millennium Declaration implies that, although globalization reflects deep technological and economic forces, it can be molded by society and, particularly, by democratic political institutions. The Helsinki Process centers on this very challenge.

Disturbing asymmetries characterize the current globalization. Imbalances in the international economic agenda pose part of the problem. Of paramount concern, however, is the asymmetry between the rapid globalization of markets and the relative weakness of the international social agenda. In broader terms, the increasing recognition of the need to provide “global public goods” contrasts sharply with the weakness of international structures—and the limited amount of resources—actually dedicated to providing those goods.

Facing the challenges posed by globalization today means that we must all reckon with “The Inequality Predicament,” in the words of a recent UN report. The global trend of rising inequality manifests itself in many ways, and not only as rising income disparities among countries. We also see an overwhelming number of countries experiencing deterioration in their own income distribution, an almost universal trend towards increasing inequalities between the formal and the informal sectors, enduring gender and ethnic inequalities, and drastically unequal access to basic social services and to political power and decision making.

Yes, each country has the primary responsibility for facing these inequalities. But globalization is constraining the “policy space” that countries, particularly developing countries, need to manage the tensions generated by global trends. And reducing international inequalities will require enhanced international cooperation. As the World Commission on the Social Dimensions of Globalization reminded us last year, the road to a balanced globalization inevitably lies in better global governance.

We have made a major stride down that road, with the global conferences and summits convened by the United Nations since the early 1990s. Together these conferences have generated a comprehensive UN Development Agenda, covering major objectives and commitments in the social and environmental fields, as well as in development cooperation. The Millennium Development Goals should be seen as expressions of that Agenda. The Agenda itself should be viewed as the expression of the economic, social and cultural rights of world citizens, and has firm roots in the history of struggle by international civil society for human rights, social equity, gender equality, environmental protection and, more recently, for the globalization of solidarity and cultural diversity.

Yet, the Agenda suffers from an “implementation gap”. We need to create among Governments strong political accountability for meeting internationally agreed objectives and for keeping their international commitments, to each other and to their peoples. Periodic evaluations of the fulfillment of these commitments should be discussed in representative national forums—with active participation by parliaments and civil society—and in global forums, particularly the UN Economic and Social Council. In this effort, we can build on the political visibility of the MDGs and the mechanism designed to evaluate progress towards them. We should aim, ultimately, for a fully integrated evaluation of the commitments made at global conferences, as well as of the covenant of economic, social and cultural rights and other internationally agreed social rights, such as the principles and fundamental rights to employment, and the rights of children, women and ethnic groups.

Achieving a better globalization will also require resource flows aimed explicitly to reduce inequality in the levels of development among countries. Regionally, the European Union seeks to do precisely that, with its policy of "social cohesion" and accompanying mechanisms. Globally, Official Development Assistance (ODA) has been and will continue to be the critical instrument. Such assistance should be provided in accordance with the international commitments agreed within the United Nations (to allocate ODA equivalent to 0.7 per cent of the Gross National Income of developed countries, and directing 0.15 to 0.20% of that amount to the LDCs), as well the basic criteria agreed to in the 2002 Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development and the more recent Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness.

All this makes clear what is at stake in the debate on UN reform in the economic, social and environmental fields. We are considering how to achieve the vision of the Millennium Summit, but also that of Rio, Cairo, Copenhagen, Beijing, Monterrey and Johannesburg. We are considering how to reap the full promise of the UN Development Agenda, which represents some of the deepest aspirations of our societies. And we are considering how to reform our institutions, and particularly ECOSOC to be up to the task: to help, through stronger mechanisms, make Member States accountable for their commitments in the UN Conferences and Summits; to serve as the major world development cooperation forum; to enhance coordination of the activities of the UN system and strengthen the system’s collective impact; to respond swiftly and effectively to emergencies; and to help construct positive links between our shared efforts in development and security.

This is why, just days before the Summit, I am so keen to be here at this 2005 Helsinki Conference on “Mobilizing Political Will”. This is exactly what we need now—and in the months ahead—to deliver concrete, positive results for the world’s peoples.