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Introduction by the Chairman of the Commission

Belgium has held the Chairmanship of the UNECE for four years, affording it a clear vantage point of what the Commission does and how it is evolving.

In the introduction to the 2008 Yearly Report, I stressed that UNECE is a better functioning organization because of an improved governance structure and because of the partnership that exists between member States and the secretariat, a partnership that is essential for the success of the Commission.

I also stated that UNECE brings clear value added to the region, but at the same time, to ensure that it continues on this path, it cannot afford to rest on its laurels.

I am pleased to report that this danger has not materialized. If anything, UNECE has demonstrated during this year that it continued to work intensively in its various areas of expertise and that it is a valued partner with which other organizations want to cooperate in these areas.

This is due, to a large extent, to the fact that UNECE is not a talk-shop – it produces a multitude of concrete results that contribute to providing solutions to transboundary issues and to reinforcing regional and subregional cooperation.

These concrete results are the result of the partnership between member States, including vast networks of national experts and the secretariat, as well as the involvement of the private sector and civil society. I am aware of countless examples of these results – whether we look at trade facilitation, sustainable energy, environment, timber, transport – indeed I could mention all of UNECE’s sectors.

To name one example, let me mention the UNECE World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations which, through its regulations on pollutant emissions from cars – including the ones under preparation on fuel quality – puts continuous pressure on the automotive industry to become “greener” at a time when we all recognize the urgent necessity to mitigate the climate change effects and the weight of the transport sector in this respect. Furthermore, the Forum plays a crucial role in improving the safety of cars by broadening the regulations on the use of safety belts all over the world and, more recently, passing a regulation on the electronic stability control systems for vehicles that is likely to save even more lives than the introduction of safety belts. This illustrates well to me that UNECE activities have a concrete impact on daily lives and produce huge positive spill-over effects beyond our region.

And this in turn means that UNECE offers value for money. I continue to be struck how the limited staff resources of the Commission can leverage such significant outputs. This is nothing new, but this message has not, I believe, been sufficiently disseminated. In this period of financial constraints it becomes even more important – the tax-payers’ money is not wasted in UNECE, and I believe that it should be quoted as a shining example in the United Nations, a view promoted by former Executive Secretary Marek Belka.

I would like to take this opportunity to say a few words about Marek, whom I regretted saying farewell to at the end of October after his almost three years at the helm of UNECE. Not only was Marek a skilled economist, but he was also an impressive leader. Under his stewardship the political profile of UNECE was raised to new heights – the Commission is now viewed as a competent and trustworthy player in the pan-European institutional landscape. Marek’s skills have also ensured that the quality and strength of UNECE’s partnerships and relationships with others, both United Nations and non-United Nations, have increased – the European Union and the United Nations Development Programme are such examples.

Once again, there is no room for complacency. But I am confident that with the continued support of member States and under the stewardship of the new Executive Secretary, Ján Kubiš whom I am sure will share my view of UNECE’s added value, UNECE will continue to make an important contribution to the economic integration of Europe.

Alex Van Meeuwen
Permanent Representative of Belgium