Sixtieth Anniversary Session of the UNECE
Palais des Nations (Conference Room XIX), Geneva Thursday, 26 April 2007
Statement of the Executive Secretary,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the months leading up to this anniversary session, I have stressed Session and not Anniversary. A serious Session with substantive debates that would put the work of ECE in a broader context and provide guidance for the future, while also improving its visibility.
I have not emphasized the anniversary aspect because I wanted to avoid the impression that the session would be primarily focused on a celebration of the past.
Now as we open this session, I believe that we have all the makings for these serious discussions, thanks to the response of you, the member States. An overwhelming response in some cases! Our panels are full, one might even say too full, but we hope to manage our time wisely.
With all this in place, I think it is not inappropriate to dwell, for a moment, on the anniversary aspect. Because it is important to acknowledge this 60 year birthday – the 60 year contribution of the ECE to the economic well-being of Europe and its citizens. The aim of ECE 60 years ago – to foster economic relations of European countries both among themselves and with other countries of the world, is still valid today. ECE stands for the Economic Commission for Europe, but it can also stand for Economic Cooperation in Europe and that is what the ECE has been strengthening and promoting for 60 years.
What has varied are the circumstances in which such cooperation has been promoted over the years, and how the issues requiring attention, many of which remain the same, have been addressed. In other words, different challenges over the years, but with a constant mandate.
I am the 10 th Executive Secretary of the ECE and I am honoured today to welcome six former Executive Secretaries: Mr. Janez Stanovnik, Mr. Klaus Sahlgren, Mr. Gerald Hinteregger, Mr. Yves Berthelot, Mrs. Danuta Hübner, and Mrs. Brigita Schmögnerová. In addition, the son of Mr. Sakari Tuomioja is with us today as is a son and grandson of Mr. Vladimir Velebit. Gunnar Myrdal, the first Executive Secretary, is, I am sure, here in spirit.
I would like to pay tribute, and I invite you to join me in doing so, to the 9 previous Executive Secretaries, each of whom confronted different challenges as they led the organization in helping to strengthen economic cooperation in Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I have said in the past, this session is an opportunity to look at ECE from a broader perspective.
To begin with, it is good to remember, in speaking about the broader context, that ECE is more than a European institution. It is part of the United Nations. This is why it is appropriate that the first of the three pillars of our session is about the regional dimension of the UN’s development efforts. And here, I am deeply grateful to my colleagues from the other Regional Commissions who will participate in our first panel discussion. The length of our debate is not an indication of its importance and I hope that the discussion will sensitise everyone here about the regional dimension of development and why, in any debate on coherence of the UN development efforts, we need to focus more on this aspect than has been done so far. I also hope that as you speak about coherence, today and elsewhere, you will make the point that coherence is not just about linking efforts and avoiding perceived duplication but also about ensuring that the most competent and qualified is asked to do the job – i.e. that decisions about who does what are based on sound analysis.
A final remark about the UN pillar. As part of the UN, the ECE has a responsibility to help bring the global agenda and commitments to the region, and to work for their implementation. But also, to feed our region’s views into the global debate. This is recognized in the reform and I am glad that it is also in the Declaration to be adopted later today, just as I am glad that the declaration recognizes the role of ECE in contributing to increasing coherence in the UN’s development efforts at the regional level.
The second pillar of our session is centred on pan-European integration, from both political and broad economic perspectives. Let me be clear here – it is not my intention to turn ECE into a political organization. And quite clearly, there are also many factors affecting economic integration that go beyond ECE’s mandate. And I am not seeking to broaden that mandate, or to take on more than we can handle. This would go against the whole spirit of the reform that we discussed yesterday.
ECE is a technical organization that produces concrete results. Concrete is good and I wouldn’t want the ECE to become just a talk shop. But we need, from time to time, to reflect on the bigger picture and how that links to our programme of work and how, if at all, the programme of work needs to be adjusted. This “strategic direction” is after all, the key function of the Commission.
And so, I look forward to listening to our speakers this morning and this afternoon as they speak about both the shifting geopolitical scenario that is Europe of today - the East-West/North-South relations in Europe and beyond, and about the factors affecting economic integration.
But, even more importantly, I am eager to hear views about how the ECE, by teaming up effectively with others, can more efficiently contribute to the various integration processes at play in Europe and ensure that its expertise and capacity is fully exploited.
This is important. It is true that the Europe of today is in a vastly better position than that of 60 years ago and that the region is marked by accelerated integration. But, the region also remains heterogeneous in many ways – a number of countries face problems of poverty, the transition towards market institutions is still unfinished, there are large differences in the degree of competitiveness, and environmental performance is very disparate.
Partnerships are important to lessen this heterogeneity. This teaming up with others was stressed in the reform but, irrespective of the reform, it is something in which I truly believe: no one organization can do it alone and the ECE, with its expertise, is well positioned and wants to join forces with others to face and address the various developmental challenges in Europe.
That is why I want to make our expertise available to the European Union in respect of its Neighbourhood Policy and to strengthen our cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Community, and other partners.
I am pleased that the Declaration supports these initiatives, and I am also pleased that our panel this afternoon features, in addition to member States, some of our key partner institutions and organizations – the European Commission, the UNDP and EurAsEC.
The Declaration also welcomes our cooperation with the OSCE – an excellent example of a complementary partnership that personifies the link between stability and prosperity, between the security and economic dimensions. We are very pleased to have with us today the Chair in Office of the OSCE, Minister Moratinos, as well as a representative of the OSCE secretariat.
I hope that our two organizations can develop an even stronger and mutually reciprocal cooperation. This is important because the security and stability of our region has an impact on our neighbours, just as the changes taking place in our neighbouring countries have an impact on Europe. So as we think about how ECE should plug into European integration processes, we should not forget that there are also opportunities for ECE’s work to serve countries outside the ECE region. And, referring again to our first pillar, this is facilitated by our belonging to the United Nations.
The last pillar of our session, tomorrow, is the one most directly linked to our programme of work. Here three factors that promote sustainable development in Europe – Sustainable energy policies, secure transport links and the economics of gender – will be discussed. The number of panellists in each panel is a clear demonstration of the importance attached to these subjects by member States and our partner organizations, and I hope that useful suggestions and proposals will be made in relation to our activities. I also hope that as we discuss these factors, we will discuss them in an “intersectoral/cross-sectoral mode”. They are all areas that naturally lend themselves to cross-sectoral approaches with other areas and we need to bear this in mind.
My remarks today would not be complete without mentioning one other point: the trust between the secretariat and member States. This is a fragile commodity and one that depends on mutual respect of each other’s roles and on a true commitment on both sides to work together. The benefits will be for the good of the people we serve.
I have enjoyed this trust and I pledge to do all I can to maintain it.