Fifty-third plenary session of the Conference of European Statisticians
Geneva, 13 -15 June 2005
Opening Statement by Mrs. Brigita Schmögnerová,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the period since the last meeting of the Conference of European Statisticians, the Economic Commission for Europe and its individual sub-programmes, one of which is Statistics, have successfully pursued their programmes of work in the three core activities: development of standards and norms, economic analyses and technical cooperation. The achievements of the UNECE under the various sub-programmes have contributed to promoting economic cooperation and facilitating policy dialogue, to preventing new and reducing existing dividing lines in the UNECE region, and to further promoting sustainable development in the UNECE region.
The historic enlargement of the European Union in May 2004, and the prospect of two more countries joining in 2007-2008, have major implications for the UNECE region. The new Neighbourhood Policy of the EU will have an inevitable impact on the other UNECE member States located at the borders of the enlarged EU. Therefore, it is a real challenge for all Principal Subsidiary Bodies of the UNECE, including the Conference of European Statisticians, to constantly adapt to a changing environment and to be open to reforms in order to remain relevant and to meet the needs of its membership.
The Conference will open with a discussion on Matters arising from the February 2005 Session of the Economic Commission for Europe on the basis of a short paper prepared by the UNECE secretariat.
In the context of the UNECE reform, the Commission decided to review the role and place of the UNECE in the new European institutional architecture. The review will also consider the comparative advantages the UNECE can bring to its members in the future, as well as identify areas where greater collaboration with other organizations can eliminate unnecessary duplication of effort and fill critical gaps. A team of external evaluators was selected to undertake a comprehensive report on the state of the UNECE. In preparation of the report, members of the evaluation team visited the capitals of selected member countries, conducted consultations with officials from line Ministries and collected views through a questionnaire sent to UNECE governments, international organizations and other stakeholders.
The Principal Subsidiary Bodies (PSBs), one of which is the Conference of European Statisticians, have played an important role in the evaluation process of the activities of the UNECE. All PSB Chairmen were consulted on the Terms of Reference for the comprehensive review. Members of the evaluation team also met with Members of the Bureaux of the PSBs. I take this opportunity to thank the members of the Conference of European Statisticians and its Bureau for their collaboration in this review. It is expected that a first draft of the evaluation report be delivered by mid-June this year and the final report by the end of June 2005.
In February, at its 60th Session, under the Agenda Item Sustainable Development in the UNECE region, the Commission examined major policy options in areas that were under review in the year 2004, taking into consideration the results of the Regional Implementation Meeting held in January 2004.
The importance of integrating sustainable development into the UNECE’s work has been repeatedly emphasized by member States. Already back in 1997, the Plan of Action stressed the importance of introducing the outlook for sustainable development into the programme of work of UNECE. Since then, the “mainstreaming” of sustainable development in UNECE programme of work has been actively pursued. Furthermore, in addition to its recurrent activities, the UNECE has been involved in global and regional processes related to sustainable development, like the WSSD and the work of the Commission on Sustainable Development.
I therefore note with great satisfaction that this year one of the seminars of the Conference is dedicated to the Measurement of Sustainable Development.
Sustainable development was accepted as a priority principle for future work of the UN at the World Summit in Johannesburg 2002. As countries have started drafting and implementing the Sustainable Development Strategies, the need for measurement of Sustainable Development and for Sustainable Development Indicators has become apparent. It is well known that the appropriate use of indicators and the availability of high quality data depends a great deal on professionally sound definitions of indicators. For these reasons, the role of the national statistical offices is important.
I am also pleased that the second major topic on the agenda of the Conference is Improved Data Reporting. This topic is in line with the discussion on “Towards an E-strategy for the UNECE” that took place at the Commission Session in February.
The 1990s witnessed the emergence of a real “information revolution”. ICT increasingly affects sectors of the economy, government and civil society. Official statistics has been among the government activities to make systematic use of new ICT developments for collection, processing and dissemination of data.
Yet the uptake of the new technologies over the last fifteen years has been uneven across the UNECE region. It was most pronounced in developed market economy countries. The emergence and initial spread of ICT in countries with economies in transition was delayed and was much slower because of the transition process to a market economy and the difficult social and economic problems that these countries had to deal with during this period.
However, the digital gaps and divides across the UNECE region and within member countries are not irreversible. Several countries in Central and Eastern Europe, emerging from transition, have taken advantage of new ICTs. But there are a number of economies in transition where a special effort will be required to ensure that these countries do not fall further behind.
I would also like to draw your attention to the activities undertaken by the Economic Commission for Europe in achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including those contained in the Millenium Declaration, as well as implementing the outcomes of the major UN conferences and summits. In September 2005, the General Assembly will meet at the level of Heads of State for a review of the goals contained in the Millenium Declaration. Like the other regional commissions, the UNECE is providing a regional contribution to this process. In this context, the quality of data on MDG indicators is important. It has been a real challenge for statisticians to meet the demand for a wide range of indicators formulated by policymakers. It is evident that it will not be possible to measure the achievement of the MDGs without statistical capacity building. It is therefore important that different opportunities be used to bring this message to the attention of the policy people at national and international levels.
Lastly, I would like to mention the importance that the Commission attaches to the technical cooperation activities of the UNECE. It is essential that the technical cooperation activities be demand-driven and result-oriented. Assistance to low-income countries in the region must be increased in a targeted and systematic manner. The efforts of the UNECE secretariat to strengthen its support to economic cooperation and development in Central Asia, carried out in close cooperation with UNESCAP, have been welcomed by the Commission. The Commission also encourages the development of joint technical cooperation projects in cooperation with other organizations.
I would like to wish you all success in your deliberations.
Thank you for your attention