Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to welcome all of you to the United Nations.
The United Nations is not, and was never intended to be a world government. But it has sometimes been referred to as “the parliament of man”. It was founded in the name of the peoples of the world, and it exists to serve them.
Therefore, the voice of the people must be heard at the United Nations. And few render that voice more authentically than elected parliamentarians.
That is why I am particularly pleased that the General Assembly recently granted the IPU observer status. Enhancing the parliamentary dimension of the work of the United Nations has strengthened the United Nations itself.
We are also moving to strengthen the United Nations in other ways. Earlier this year I asked a group of eminent persons to look specifically into ways of improving the interaction between the United Nations and civil society –including parliamentarians. This group, headed by former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, has already benefited from the IPU's input and advice, and further consultation will take place before the group submits its report to me next year.
I am glad that you are addressing today two of the most important issues before the United Nations –current threats to international peace and security, and financing for development.
I wish to speak to you this morning about international peace and security –but before I do so, let me underline the link between peace and development. Put simply, a world in which billions are suffering from poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease, and which is not advancing down the road of development, will not be a world at peace.
The last year has been a difficult one. One thing it has taught us is that the peoples of the world have high expectations. They want the United Nations to be the forum for collective responses to common problems. They also wonder whether the United Nations is equal to the task.
Those who feel uniquely threatened by terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and particularly by the prospect that these two agents of death could link up, look to the United Nations and ask: are you really up to the job of protecting me and ensuring my security?
Yet those, perhaps the majority of the world's people, whose lives and livelihoods are endangered on a daily basis by disease and poverty, or by environmental degradation, or by civil or inter-state conflict, look to the United Nations and ask: why aren't you doing more to protect me and ensure my security?
At least one reason these questions are so widely asked is that the inter-governmental structures of the United Nations reflect an earlier age.
This is most clearly the case in the Security Council. There is widespread agreement that the Council should be enlarged. But there is no consensus on the details. We need to find that consensus.
I also believe we need to grapple with challenges not foreseen in 1945 –including perhaps the question of early Council authorization of coercive measures to address certain types of threats, and the responsibility to protect civilians threatened by genocide or massive violations of human rights.
The other institutions of the United Nations also bear re-examination –the Economic and Social Council, and even the Trusteeship Council.
Please do not misunderstand me –I am not suggesting that the United Nations has been standing still or doing nothing. On the contrary, far-reaching managerial changes have taken place in recent years. As a result, the United Nations is more efficient and more effective. It is more deeply engaged on a wider variety of fronts than ever before.
But, despite the efforts of many, the spirit of change has not yet galvanised the inter-governmental institutions of the Organization.
To help breathe new life into these efforts, I am appointing a high-level panel to examine these issues, and I intend to make concrete recommendations to the General Assembly next year. The decisions will of course rest with the Member States –but I will do everything I can to help them render the United Nations a more effective instrument in the service of the peoples of the world.
I hope you will play your part too.
If it is to succeed, the effort needs good ideas to make this Organization both open to more voices and more effective in taking action. We must propose radical reform if that is needed. At the same time, the proposals must have a good chance of gaining widespread support, including from crucial Member States.
It is equally vital to build political momentum for that effort, since it will require genuine commitment from Member States. They will have to show that they can promote their national interest by advancing the global interest.
I ask you as parliamentarians to do what you can, individually and collectively, to encourage governments to do just that. I know that this is a challenging task, given all the issues you deal with at the local and national level. But this is a world where all politics is global as well as local –where we all affect, and are affected by, events in far away places. Your very presence here shows how acutely aware you are of this fact.
Your efforts to place, and keep, the seemingly distant issue of reform of international institutions high on the political agenda at home will, I am sure, make a real difference. The same goes for your work through the IPU with other parliamentarians, and with the United Nations.
I therefore thank you for your commitment and support, and I wish you all the best and a successful meeting this year.