In accordance with article 7 of the UN Charter, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is one of the six main UN bodies.
Chapter IX of the Charter describes the missions entrusted to it as the principle body responsible for the coordination of the UN’s economic and social activities. It shall: i) promote higher standards of living, full employment, and economic and social progress; ii) find solutions to economic, social, and public health-related problems; iii) facilitate international cooperation in the fields of intellectual culture and education; iv) promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Chapter X of the Charter describes the instruments available to ECOSOC to achieve these objectives (it can notably prepare studies and reports, call international conferences, prepare draft conventions and make arrangements for consultations with non-governmental organizations).
ECOSOC can establish the subsidiary bodies needed to implement its missions. At this time, the Council has 5 regional commissions, 9 functional commissions and 15 specialized bodies (expert committees, ad hoc groups, etc.).
ECOSOC has 54 members elected by the General Assembly. Membership expires for one-third of members at the end of each year, and 18 members are elected each year to a three year term, based on the following geographical distribution: 14 African states, 11 Asian states, 10 Latin American and Caribbean states, 13 Western European and other states and 6 Eastern European states. France is traditionally a member of ECOSOC. Its current term expires on December 31, 2014.
ECOSOC consists of a Bureau headed by a president and 4 vice-presidents who represent the 5 regional groups. Each is responsible for a segment of the Council’s substantive session.
Most of ECOSOC’s decisions are adopted by consensus. However, whenever a vote is taken, each member country has one vote and decisions are taken by simple majority.
Since its creation in 1945, ECOSOC has undergone several reforms. Its current working methods are the result of the combined effect of two processes: a) a review of the implementation of resolution 61/16; b) the creation of the High-level Political Forum through resolution 67/290.
a) Review of the implementation of resolution 61/16
● Adoption of resolution 61/16 following the 2005 World Summit
– At the 2005 World Summit, 5 priority areas were identified with a view to making the Council a central body responsible for coordination within the UN system and with respect to global economic governance. The Council should:
i) Promote global dialogue and partnership on global policies and trends in the economic, social, environmental and humanitarian fields;
ii) Hold a biennial Development Cooperation Forum at the highest level to review trends in development cooperation;
iii) Ensure follow-up of the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits, notably with respect to the internationally agreed development goals, and hold annual ministerial-level meetings to assess progress;
iv) Support and complement international efforts aimed at addressing humanitarian emergencies, notably natural disasters;
v) Play a major role in the overall coordination of funds and programs.
– In order to implement these five guidelines, the General Assembly adopted, during its 61st session, resolution 61/16, which charts new ground in four ways:
i) It specifies the implementation of an Annual Ministerial Review, in order to review the progress achieved with respect to implementing the UN Development Program, including the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, and leads to the adoption of a ministerial declaration;
ii) It mandates ECOSOC to hold a biennial Development Cooperation Forum (DCF) in order to review trends and progress in international development cooperation and to make recommendations aimed at enhancing its coherence and its effectiveness;
iii) It provides the Council with the option of convening ad-hoc meetings on specific humanitarian crises at the request of the affected State in order to assess the threat to development and encourage coordinated responses;
iv) It invites the Peacebuilding Commission to learn from the Economic and Social Council’s experiences in the area of post-conflict peacebuilding and from the success of its ad hoc advisory groups.
● Review of the implementation of resolution 61/16 and adoption of resolution 68/1
– Resolution 61/16 provided that the review of its implementation would take place during the 65th session but the General Assembly, in its resolution 65/285 decided to postpone this review until its 67th session.
In June 2012, at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, the heads of state and government lent their support to this process by stating that they were “looking forward to the review of the implementation of General Assembly resolution 61/16 on the strengthening of the Economic and Social Council,” reaffirming its role as “a principal body for coordination, policy review, recommendations and for the follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals” and by recognizing ““its key role in achieving a balanced integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development.”
– The review of the implementation of resolution 61/16 which was conducted during the 67th session led to the adoption of resolution 68/1. This resolution proposes a four-pronged strategy to address the Council’s weaknesses in terms of its coordination role and its lack of visibility:
i) Election of ECOSOC’s Bureau in July in order to match the electoral cycle to the Council’s work cycle (July – July);
ii) Definition of an annual theme to guide the work of the Council and its subsidiary bodies;
iii) Staggering the segments of the substantive session over the whole year;
iv) Reconsideration of the practice of alternating meetings between New York and Geneva, with the exception of the humanitarian segment, which will continue to alternate between the two locations;
Resolution 68/1 stipulates that all these measures will enter into force in 2016 and that a review of their implementation will be conducted during the 72nd session of the General Assembly.
b) Creation of the High-level Forum
The UN Conference on Sustainable Development established a High-level Political Forum to replace the Commission on Sustainable Development, one of ECOSOC’s subsidiary bodies. General Assembly resolution 67/290 establishes this forum and provides that it will meet on an annual basis under the auspices of ECOSOC.
ECOSOC holds brief meetings throughout the year on matters falling within its competence (high-level meeting with the Bretton Woods institutions, the WTO and UNCTAD; high-level dialogue with the international financial and business institutions; meeting on international tax cooperation; Partnership Forum; Youth Forum).
It also addresses issues at meetings held within the framework of its organizational session.
However, most of its work is focused on the four segments of its substantive session, which, since the adoption of resolution 68/1, are staggered throughout the work program cycle (July-July) and no longer concentrated in the month of July.
High-level Segment (July) The High-level Segment provides a framework for the High-level Political Forum and, every two years, for the Development Cooperation Forum. It culminates in the adoption of the Forum’s ministerial declaration.
Operational Activities Segment (February)
The Operational Activities Segment takes place after the first session of the meetings of the executive boards of the funds and programs and lays down the guidelines for their operational activities for development. It aims to improve the overall impact of these activities, in support of national development priorities.
Integration Segment (May)
The Integration Segment promotes the balanced integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development. It provides an opportunity to review the key ideas of the Council and its subsidiary bodies with respect to the Council’s annual theme and to make practical recommendations in response to the ideas.
Humanitarian Affairs Segment (June)
The Humanitarian Affairs Segment helps to strengthen the coordination and effectiveness of humanitarian assistance and support provided by the UN. A special event devoted to the transition from relief to development takes place following the humanitarian segment. This segment is the only one that, following the last reform, will continue to rotate between New York and Geneva.
Coordination and management meetings (throughout the year)
These meetings help to identify areas in which a more integrated UN response is needed and provide an opportunity to recommend actions aimed at ensuring improved coordination.
13 December 2013 - General Assembly - Resolution 68/1 - application of resolution 61/16
9 July 2013 - General Assembly - Resolution 67/290 - formation of the high-level political for sustainable development
20 November 2006 - General Assembly - Resolution 61/16 - reinforcement of the Economic and Social Council
Link to the ECOSOC website