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Ad Hoc Informal Meeting of the Commission

Geneva, 14 July 2005
Statement by Mrs Brigita Schmögnerová,
Executive Secretary

  1. The UNECE secretariat welcomed the decision of the 59th Annual Session in February 2004 to commission a comprehensive report on the state of the UNECE. The UNECE secretariat’s positive and very open attitude towards the review is based on expectations and hope that this would result in recommendations that would further strengthen UNECE, give it better opportunity to adapt to the needs and demands of its member States in the rapidly changing environment and will renew its legitimacy as in the 1997 reform.

  2. As my reference to the 1997 reform indicates, this is not the first reform of the UNECE in this decade. It also proves that UNECE is opened to reforms, its secretariat is flexible enough and willing to cooperate with the member States. I would like to commend ambassadors and delegates recognizing the need for the secretariat’s productive role in the reform.

  3. The 1997 reform was a major reform reacting to a new political, economic and social environment after the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the ECE region. I will make a reference to it a few more times in my statement. But the 1997 Action Plan and its implementation has not been the only reform effort in the past decade. Initiated by the Secretary-General at the beginning of his second term, the Commission started a new round of reforming itself. Making comparison to the 1997 Reform or 2005 Reform, the process had been considered as a more continuous process and as a part of the broader UN Reform. The discussion on the second round of the UNECE Reform started at the 57th Annual Session of the Commission in May 2003 on the basis of CRP 2003 on “Strengthening of the Organization – UNECE secretariat’s Self Assessment” with the secretariat’s view on reforming the mandate of the ECE, programme of work, intergovernmental structure, technical assistance, cooperation with other UN organizations and non-UN organizations – which is almost the replication of the reform clusters to be discussed in this reform process. The reform discussion continued at its 58th Annual Session considering the document “The UNECE Reform” (E/ECE/1399) which focused on the reform of the secretariat, the intergovernmental structure and the reform of the technical cooperation followed up by the debate on the process of implementation and actions taken in the document in 2003 “The UNECE Reform” (E/ECE/1411) at its 58th Annual Session in February 2004. This again illustrates UNECE’s readiness and ability of undergoing changes, which is a great asset on which we should build.

  4. Due to the concentration of the reform efforts in less than 10 years, it is therefore not a surprise that many of the conclusions and general recommendations made in the “Comprehensive Report on the State of the UNECE”, namely part 8 of the report, are not new and were repeatedly made in the 1997 Reform and also in the process 2002/2004. There are like “the need to improve cooperation with other organizations and the private sector”, “the need to strengthen intersectoral linkages”, “the need to raise the political profile of the UNECE”, etc. It shows that either there is a need for further improvement in these areas or the improvement has not been fully recognized. It also shows that improvement might be achieved only if the recommendations are more instrumental. Understanding of this might help to move the process of improvement much faster.

  5. The “Comprehensive Report on the State of the UNECE” proposes also some very new recommendations like the need to implement the MDGs which was not recognized enough in the 2002/2004 discussions. It also recommends to change the governance structure decided upon in the 1997 reform. It recognizes very correctly that the UNECE receives mandates from the UN General Assembly and the ECOSOC, and the need to continue to fulfil the mandates of the two main governance bodies of the UNECE. How to reconcile between the mandates of the global governance bodies and the regional governance bodies has however to be addressed.

  6. The UNECE secretariat is in general agreement with many of the broad conclusions of Part 8. However, as indicated above, it is indispensable to make them operational. The secretariat would like to express its readiness to be fully cooperative in the embarked process. I believe very much that building confidence in the reform process between the member States and the secretariat is a pre-condition to success both in terms of achieving the best decisions and the best results in the implementation.

Mr. Chairman,

As this is my last opportunity to speak with member States, allow me to share with you some immediate reactions made in good faith to make the reform process a success.

Mission: The UNECE primary objective in 1947 was defined as increasing economic cooperation among its member States and improving their economic welfare. This objective is still valid after 60 years. At the same time, the region has undergone major changes both in terms of economic and political development and in its institutional architecture. UNECE should therefore be more focused on promoting economic cooperation on a multilateral basis, promoting cooperation within country groupings like CA, SEE, and other CIS, and among the country groupings. This is complementary to bilateral cooperation between the EU and non-EU Member States like based on agreements concluded between the EU and non-EU countries with economies in transition in format of AAs, PCAs or SAAs.

Until late nineties UNECE was considered the important bridge between the East and the West. Its role today is to prevent from new dividing lines such as EU/non-EU members, high-income/low-income countries, digital divide, etc. In 2003-2004 the project on Wider Europe implemented in the organization provided opportunities to discuss the impacts of the EU enlargement on the programme of work. Tens of discussions in different formats, conferences, workshops, round-tables, deliberated on the impact of the new European architecture on the respective programme of work and the necessary adjustments have been introduced. All this work invested should be used. In addition to that I assume that the mission of the UNECE should be formulated with the recognition of a need for regional cooperation to promote sustainable development in the region which would respond to new needs and realities in the 21st century.

Governance: The secretariat agrees that there is a need for improving the governance structure in UNECE. Firstly to improve the priority-setting mechanism in order to ensure that member States’ priorities shape the programme of work. Secondly the UNECE governance structure is complex and therefore rules and mechanisms to make it as efficient as possible are needed. Both these aspects of governance have been addressed: in 1997 and more recently in 2002-2004. At its Annual Session in February 2005 the Commission adopted the Recommendation of the GEPW on the Programme Planning Processes (E/ECE/1423/Add.1). With respect to the decision mechanism on governance structure, the Commission at its Ad Hoc Informal Meeting of June 2003 adopted the Guidelines for the Establishment and Functioning of Teams of Specialists (E/ECE/1407&Add.1).

According to the 1997 reform the PSBs cannot establish WP of a standing nature without the approval of the Commission. However, under the principle of subsidiarity adopted by member States in 1977, they have authority to set up working groups and task forces. This was further regulated by the Guidelines as indicated above.

Taking into consideration the above and the fact that many decisions adopted have been implemented only recently, I am of the view that the member States should carefully monitor the existing mechanism before introducing major changes to it. The issue is also whether member States wish to depart from the principle of subsidiarity adopted in 1997 giving PSBs authority to establish their work programme. If it is considered that this authority should henceforth revert to the Commission, then an in-depth discussion as to how this could be done needs to take place. As the 1997 reform was an effort to correct what was considered a “rubber-stamping” by the Commissions of PSB work programmes, it would not appear to be enough to simply state the PSBs’ work programmes be approved by the Commission.

The report recommends a merger of the GEPW and the Bureau. This could be a major improvement provided member States agree on the TOR of the ExC, achieve high-level representation, appropriate country representation, etc. It also recommends to discontinue the existence of the Steering Committee. This Committee was never intended to be a “governing body”. It was intended to provide an opportunity (1) to exchange experience among PSBs (2) to promote cross-programme cooperation (3) to provide information on the work of PSBs to member States in an open discussion. If the Steering Committee is abolished it would be useful to develop a mechanism of informal consultations among the PSBs that would ensure the first 2 functions of the Steering Committee.

This would be fully in conformity with the Review that there is a need to enhance communication between programmes and set up joint programmes.

Management: As management was my responsibility I will be more detailed in this area. I already made a point on the endorsed Programme Planning Process involving the PSBs at the initial stage for the preparation of the strategic framework, which is going to be implemented the first time for the preparation of the 2008-2009 strategic framework this year.

The Commission at its Annual Session in 2004 also endorsed the rule on evaluation of subsidiary bodies and their programme of work biannually.

Some recommendations of the Report on Strategic Framework and Budget Process and the role of ExC in budget process, including the recommendation that all changes or new resources would be discussed with ExC ignore that the secretariat must confirm with the existing UN rules. Here I see clear linkages to the UN Reform, particularly the part dealing with the Management Reform. At the same time there is now much more transparency on resource issues than at the time when I joined the Organization – the use of resources for Technical Cooperation is available, the budget of the UNECE including extra-budgetary funding is reported in the UNECE Annual Report, etc. The secretariat welcomes the recommendations on improved mobility of staff within the UNECE secretariat and UN Secretariat. They are fully in conformity with the UN Human Resources Management Reform and the internal UNECE Human Resources Policy and recently approved UNECE Internal Voluntary Reassignment Programme.

The Report states that improvement in horizontal communication is needed. But it should be recognized that in recent years communication has improved considerably within the secretariat, using Intranet as a modern communication instrument, between the secretariat and member States (UNECE Weekly, UNECE Annual Report, recently completed CD-rom, knowledge-sharing initiative, etc.). In the secretariat we introduced regular Staff meetings, Staff brainstormings, etc. Therefore your recommendations should be more concrete how to further proceed.

The UNECE secretariat has adopted clear internal rules and policies in the form of UNECE Directives which provide guidance in the areas of human resources, budget resources, etc., and which aimed at the improved efficiency of the work of the secretariat. A strengthened cooperation on cross-cutting issues setting-up internal task forces like on OSCE Task Force, Group on Technical Cooperation, MDGs Task Force, etc. has been introduced. I regret that these efforts are ignored in the Report. If further progress has to be made your recommendations will have to be instrumental.

Cooperation with other organizations: The Report emphasizes the importance of cooperation with other organizations. The secretariat agrees that this cooperation, also emphasized in the 1997 reform, is important. In this connection, I would like to note the very strong cooperation that it has already developed with many organizations – which should be recognized.

I would like to note that from 2002 to 2004 we concluded 5 important MoUs with ICC, UIC, IRU, ECO and OSCE. The negotiation of the MoU with the OSCE was particularly long due to the need to reconcile different views in Geneva and Vienna.

However, the cooperation with OSCE, CEI, Stability Pact and other international organizations within the existing resources is very hard, so that staff has to face very high workload on a permanent basis. This needs to be taken into consideration.

On UN Reform and its implications for UNECE Reform: It is up to the member States to decide on the road map including the time framework of the process. However, it would not be appropriate to ignore that there is an ongoing process of the UN Reform. It is not a parallel process without implications on UNECE. The decisions on new UN Governance, including a new mandate for ECOSOC, on Management Reform as already noted, will have an impact on the UNECE Reform. Therefore it would be premature to agree upon recommendations that would have to be reversed later due to the progress in the UN Reform. I would like to thank and commend those delegates and ambassadors who referred to this.

Mr. Chairman, let me conclude with one important message:

The UNECE is not just another regional organization in the region. It is the United Nations organization with mandates coming from the General Assembly, ECOSOC and United Nations Summits and Global Conferences. When the mandates are explicitly addressed to the Regional Commissions, it is mandatory to comply with them. The regional dimension of many important global processes is increasingly recognized, like in sustainable development, financing for development, etc. As the regional arm of the United Nations, the UNECE plays a double role: (1) in implementing the global decisions at regional level (2) in providing inputs from the regional to the global level. It also has some global responsibilities as mandated by the global United Nations Bodies.

I would like to express my hope that all obligations, linkages, etc. will be considered in your negotiation process.

Mr. Chairman,

If we achieve a much needed atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence between the member States and the secretariat, the reform process will be smoother and effective. I very much believe this is needed and would like to reassure you that the secretariat is committed to do its best.

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© United Nations Economic Commissions for Europe – 2013