Report on Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) March 7th Special Panel Discussion on “ECOSOC and Global Governance”
By Katie Jagel
On March 7th ECOSOC hosted a Special Panel Discussion in New York centered around Global governance. The Discussion hosted three distinguished panelists and was designed by the President of ECOSOC, H.E. Miloš Koterec, as an 'open free-flowing discussion with no formal statements' between Member States and the panelists. Based on questions and statements from Member States, ECOSOC's role in global governance within the UN system is unquestioned but needs to be better defined and articulated in order for it to utilize its mandate as a 'logical platform and good compliment alongside the G20 and the Bretton Woods Institutions (BWI's)'.
'Strengthening Governance of Operational Activities for Development' is one of the issues under System-Wide Coherence that the UN System as a whole is currently pursuing. ECOSOC has taken on a major role in this pursuit after the 5 SWC issues [funding, governance, harmonization of business practices, creation of a gender entity, and the 'Delivering as One' initiative] were de-linked in Resolution 64/289. On October 10th 2011, Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon presented a concept note on Global economic governance and development. Briefly, the note defines global economic governance as “the role of multilateral institutions and processes in shaping global economic policies, rules and regulations.” It contains several recommendations and critiques. It recommends creating an institutional framework for collective decision-making to face the interconnected socio-economic challenges. The note attempts to cover the current decentralized state of global governance architecture in terms of the ad hoc social and economic institutions within and surrounding the UN proper at a global, regional, state and NGO level. He specifically mentions both the benefits and gaps in the G20 and BWI governance network, and calls for an enhancement of the ECOSOC in terms of accountability, leadership and coordination between entities.
It can be said then, that ECOSOC hosted this panel partially as a follow-up to this note and also as an example of its acceptance of the mantle placed on it by the Secretary-General. The discussion was moderated by Ambassador Gert Rosenthal, Permanent Representative of Guatemala and former President of ECOSOC, and three panelists including: Ambassador Albert Chua, Permanent Representative of Singapore; Mr. Roberto Marino, Special Representative of Mexico to the G20 Presidency; and Mr. José Antonio Ocampo, Professor of Professional Practice in International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.
There were three 'Lead Questions' for the Panelists followed by statements and follow-up questions from the Member States. The first question was: How can the UN's leadership and effectiveness in sustainable development governance be improved? What should be ECOSOC's role, especially in the post Rio+20 follow-up? The lead discussant was H.E. Mr. Chua. He started his frank and refreshing response with “Well, speaking honestly...” he followed by stating that- the UN being the only legitimate power in regards to global governance issues is “a mantra we like to repeat to ourselves for comfort”, but that other international, G20-type bodies were bypassing the UN in terms of efficiency. He stated clearly that the state the UN found itself in was because of Member States and no one else. For necessary reforms he put forth three ideas. The first was for the UN to focus on its comparative advantage; coordinating responses and avoiding repetitions. The second was to improve its working methods. The third was to enhance accountability and implementation especially in regards to sustainable development. He then fleshed out his ideas a little further. In terms of his 'comparative advantage ideal' he stated that recently there had been “no value added, no innovation” in terms of new programs. He stated that ECOSOC has many subsidiary bodies with cross-cutting linkages and that these issues, things like women, education, climate change etc, all needed to be dealt with in a holistic fashion, and asked that ECOSOC should “stop segmenting issues into thematic areas, because it needs a holistic approach.” This would enhance coherence and allow for the 'weeding out of random things that have been thrown in'. Secondly, for the improvement of working methods, he said that Member States need to start working out their own problems in discussions. Whenever a stand-still is reached the States give up and ask for a concept note from the Secretary-General, who then produces reports that “almost no one reads”. He declared that people are unwilling to review old mandates and then the inevitable crunch for time leads to agreements under language that no one understands. He asks Member States to make some sacrifices for the global good. Lastly, he tackles the issue of accountability saying that the UN “has none- they have no teeth”. He requests that ECOSOC take this problem on in a comprehensive manner utilizing their role of bringing players together to address gaps. He acknowledged that “we want to the UN to be strengthened” but in order for that to happen, “we need to get our own house in order before governments can bring outside issues into that house for help”.
The second question: How might the G20 improve coordination with ECOSOC and the UN and produce greater synergies? This question was headed by Mr. Marino, a special representative of Mexico to the G20. He started by saying that it was the G20's mission to improve synergies and coordination, and that he would be aligning his answers with the Mexican G20 Presidency. He stated that in the current globalized environment economic uncertainty existed within a weak global economy. He cited the main risk within the World Bank and the IMF is “the intensified global paradox of thrift”. He added then, that so much global debt was “fertile ground for volatile expectations”, this would in turn hurt medium-term growth prospects. He stipulated several priorities of the G20 group in relation to improved coordination. The first was economic stabilization by way of structural reform, which would increase possibilities for employment and growth. The second was to strengthen financial institutions, citing, “too much global restakeing”. He said that given the overall size of the world, the problem cannot be handled at the level of one nation-state, and that there needed to be a “deepening and inclusion within financial institutions”. The third priority was to reform financial architecture. He cited that one of the advantages of the G20 was that it could address short and long term needs, with the surveillance capacity of the IMF. His fourth priority was that of food security, which would enhance market stability. And lastly, he cited the need for sustainable development within states. He summed up by saying that global financial institutions must take advantage of the specialized financial leaders within specific countries, that an informal environment is necessary to face the challenges of the interconnected world economy. He said that to maintain accountability, an institution must follow its mandate, and that the G20 wants to strengthen organizations, not weaken them. He finished by saying that now was a time for “bold action.”
The third and last question was: What could be ECOSOC's role in global financial and economic governance? What are the main issues and obstacles impeding more effective UN leadership on global governance challenges? This discussion was opened by Professor Ocampo. Mr. Ocampo approached his question by way of strengths and weaknesses. Strengths of the UN included its open forum at the global level and its confidence from civil society and developing countries (he noted that the BWI's do not have the confidence of developing countries). He followed by saying that the UN has the best development agenda, with both 'development at the country level' and 'development of society', the latter one being unique in terms of society, environment, and sustainable human development. He follows with five weaknesses. The first being that the UN and ECOSOC take on an ambivalent role in economic issues, displacing policy decisions to BWI's and ad hoc bodies. Second, the boundaries between the General Assembly and ESOSOC are undefined, and therefore the level of political power is an estimate. Thirdly, the implementation and tools for any sort of coordination is weak. The World Bank and IMF never quite fit into the general architecture; BWI's have maintained an orbit without being integrated. Fourth, in terms of policy and coordination of operational activities, it is important to note that both have roles in economic governance, but both are distinct and need to have a larger degree of separation. He specifically critiques the idea of 'a Board of Boards' and the unneeded levels of bureaucracy. He finishes his list of weaknesses by saying that ECOSOC needs to define its separate functions. He then transfers his attention to ECOSOC specifically with three recommendations. He stated that ECOSOC is the best at dealing with humanitarian affairs, and that humanitarian affairs should be its comparative advantage (nodding to H.E. Mr Chua). Second, ECOSOC should be the cross-cutting body that coordinates development corporations. Lastly, ECOSOC should be the front-runner in the integration of economic, social, and developmental issues. He finishes by saying “This body should be the 'social development council', not anyone else.” and “at the World Bank you have bankers, at ECOSOC you have governments, civil society, and NGO's; different forums create different outcomes. ECOSOC is not economic and financial, but economic and social.”
The panelists were then given the opportunity to give brief responses to each others statements. Mr. Marino said that H.E. Mr. Chua's guidelines should be applied in all aspects of institutions. After, Mr. Ocampo gave a definition of ECOSOC as a macroeconomic policy actor by precedent, and one that, unlike the G20, gives smaller countries a voice. H.E. Mr Chua picked this up by saying although the G20 nations contain 85% of the worlds GDP they contain less than 10% of the nations in the UN, and that while it is more efficient, it is less legitimate. It was at this point that the floor was opened to Member States. Statements were made, in order, by: Mexico, Nepal, Chile, the EU, Cuba, Jamaica, Tanzania, Bangladesh, Algeria, Egypt, Brazil, Indonesia, Germany, the Islamic Republic of Iran, France, Belgium, and Nigeria.
In terms of the role and legitimacy of the G20, most Member States had something to say. The Mexican delegation defined the G20 as a 'process not an event', and a means to an end. This was echoed by France later. Nepal stated that since the G20 had no global legitimacy it could contain a crisis, but not fix global issues. Chile agreed with Nepal. The EU welcomed G20 involvement in UN issues saying that if the UN influence in global governance is marginal, then ECOSOC is partially to blame. Cuba said flatly that the G20 is generic, optimistic, repetitive, and unrealistic. Further, that there needs to be a new development model; an inclusive one- one that is democratic and transparent. The delegation did concede, however, that it is a sovereign right of nations to join ad hoc organizations outside of the UN. Jamaica said that the G20 is hurting Caribbean nations in terms of policies that relate to airlines and tourism. Algeria asked if it was a matter of framework and hierarchy, was the G20 going to be asked to report to ECOSOC? Egypt stated that it was an issue of balance where the G20 was too restrictive, while the UN is too wide and fluid. Brazil pointed out the shortcomings of the G20 on a global scale, citing the failed DOHA round. Iran asked the floor if it would be better to make the G20 and BWI institutions more like the UN or the UN more like the outside exclusive bodies. Iran then reasoned that the UN was the better alternative because it delivers when its global body of Member States wants it to. France, after re-iterating the statement by Mexico, said that the G20 does seek to include other governments and create joint decisions. Nigeria closed by saying that G20 would remain illegitimate for as long as it failed in its representation.
ECOSOC's comparative advantage and level of effectiveness was also up for debate. Nepal asked the floor how the global community was supposed to deal with the IMF and World Bank if their accountability 'doesn't touch the ground'; if they continued to orbit, and not fit into the UN or ECOSOC network. Chile called for the ECOSOC body to define 'what we're good at', and asked if the comparative advantage was the role in policy guidance or something else. The EU stated that implementation is weak. Cuba critiqued ECOSOC by saying that the background document was handed out right before the meeting, and if there was to be better and more comprehensive discussions then things should be given out in advance. The delegation then said that ECOSOC was not lacking in reform initiative, but effectiveness, citing the problem of UN intergovernmental institutional machinery, not the Secretariat. “The UN's will goes as far as its Member States allow”. Tanzania said that ECOSOC was meeting its objective for which it was created, but that the mandate was created 'then' and it needed to be asked if it is still measuring up to 'the now'. Egypt stated that ECOSOC could be the organ that the UN needs to act towards revitalization and energizing follow up. Germany put forth that the difference between the GA and ECOSOC needed to be made more clear in order to get rid of duplications on agenda items. France stipulated the need for better organization citing that ECOSOC had “too much backlog” in order to be efficient during meetings, and asked if ECOSOC was going to take accountability for the follow-up? Belgium agreed with France, but stated that it was ECOSOC's position on the development agenda that was its comparative advantage.
Within accountability and follow-up, most member states were in agreement that something had to be done, but held different positions on solutions. Nepal stated that because of the depth and integration of globalized problems that institutions need to be strong and inclusive, with both the power to convene and implement policy. Nepal then asked the floor how accountability could be ensured, not per silo, but in totality as a system. Cuba stated that substantive discussion is hurt by clerical and organizational errors; that machinery needs to be addressed before over arching reform. The delegation also noted specifically that it would take more than a three hour meeting to fix these problems, and that without follow-up the meetings were without purpose. Jamaica stated that this was not 'an academic debate', and that the financial crisis is tangible, and effecting countries currently. They stated that this problem needs a response not a theoretical debate, saying, “ideas die within the words on the paper they are printed.” Bangladesh called on ECOSOC to organize follow-up. Egypt called for top-down legitimacy.
The panelists then tried to answer many questions in a very short amount of time. H.E. Mr. Chua stated that accountability could only be achieved by implementation. He stated that resolutions and mandates are not and end within themselves. He cited specifically that Rio+20 is not a destination, but a milestone. He stated that global inter-linkages and complexities needed to be mirrored in the UN and ECOSOC's institutional designs. He stated that leaders only show up to meetings when it is substantive for them, and that too is a problem, because often meetings are not substantive, and therefore lose integrity. In regards to the G20, he warned that it should not be made into something it is not- do not make it more inclusive, take it as it is, it is not a global, inclusive body. He finished by saying that the G20 should do the task it set out to do and then dismantle itself. This was met with smiles and 'here-here's' from the audience. Mr Marino then said that in terms of G20 decisions, that “too many cooks spoil the broth”, in a way of answering the inclusion questions. That the reason G20 had been so successful was because of its small size leading to efficient decisions. He stated that ECOSOC, the World Bank and the G20 all had their own niches in which to exploit their comparative advantages. Professor Ocampo then took the floor stating that social development and human development were not developing nation issues, that they were 'everyone' issues- that social development is a policy goal at ECOSOC. He then said that the G20 is less important than it thinks it is, and that at the foremost, it is a dialogue between powerful countries. He closed by saying that the battle between legitimacy and effectiveness is the lasting war of all democratic institutions, and the main problem of 'elite multilateralism'.