Sixtieth session of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)
Geneva, 22 February 2005
Introductory remarks by the Executive Secretary,
Ms. Brigita Schmögnerová
Thank you all for accepting the invitation to participate in the sixtieth Annual Session of the UNECE. While the sixtieth anniversary of the UNECE will be celebrated in two years, in 2007, this sixtieth annual session is also noteworthy, despite the fact that we do not celebrate it in a way as was done by our sister organization, UNESCAP in April 2004. Member States have decided on a very important agenda, including high-level discussions, particularly timely in view of the up-coming high-level dialogue at the 2005 UN General Assembly on the follow-up to and implementation of the Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development which will form part of the basis for a comprehensive review of the progress made in achieving the MDGs.
This, including other items that we will discuss in the coming days demonstrates that the UNECE is a part of the United Nations and reaffirms the bigger context of the UNECE. This is an important starting point in decision-making regarding the programme of work and regarding the directions of the UNECE in the future in the context of the comprehensive report on the state of the UNECE, on which work has just begun. The terms of reference for that study asks for an analysis and recommendations on the changes to the role, mandate and functions of the UNECE that are necessary taking into consideration the changes in the European institutional architecture since the UNECE was created.
The terms of reference very correctly state that the UNECE’s role as a UN Regional Commission should be taken into account. Allow me to recall that regional commissions, including the UNECE fulfill a dual role.
As emphasized by ECOSOC, on the one hand, the regional commissions are regional outposts of the United Nations, and, according to regional needs and circumstances “they fulfill norm-setting, dissemination and analytical functions as well as undertaking operational activities that are complementary and reinforcing”. In other words, they respond to the regional needs.
But at the same time, ECOSOC has stressed the importance of the commissions as the “regional arms of the United Nations” and stressed the need for linking the activities of the regional commissions with the overall activities of the United Nations. This has been even more recently stressed by the General Assembly in order to ensure the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, a subject we will debate later this week.
Indeed while the United Nations as a whole, including the UNECE, performs very important norm-setting and standards work, work to which I and many others attach great importance, we are much more than a “standards-setting organization”.
The major engine of the United Nations in recent years has been the development agenda and the achievement of the development targets articulated by the United Nations - targets that relate not only to the developing world but also to the developed countries.
The recently released report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change emphasizes that development is the indispensable foundation of a new collective security. As the Secretary-General himself has stated, “if we are to succeed in better protecting the security of our citizens, it is essential that due attention and necessary resources be devoted to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.”
As part of the United Nations, the UNECE has a role to play in helping countries to achieve those goals. It is clear that our work in harmonization and standard setting, which contributes to economic integration, contributes to the achievement of those goals. But it is only one side of our work. Our work in providing a neutral forum where all countries can participate in policy discussions, debate the issues, exchange experiences, and participate in decision-making on an equal footing, and our links to the global agenda, is also important.
This point was emphasized by UNECE member States in the 1997 reform and it remains valid. I hope that all stakeholders will remember it in their reflections on the future of the UNECE.
For my part, I continue to believe that the UNECE exists, and continues to exist because its work is valuable and contributes to the formulation of, and the implementation of the UN values, policies and tasks in the region.
I remain convinced that it can continue, indeed, is continuing, to be an instrument of economic integration that works to meet the needs of its members and helps to forge bridges and reduce gaps among them. At the same time, UNECE as a demand-driven organization, in order to better respond to the demands of its membership in a rapidly changing environment, has to continue to adjust and reform itself and I look forward to working with you to this end.