The Economic and Social Council, commonly referred to by its English acronym, ECOSOC, is the principal UN body coordinating the economic and social activities of the organization. Under the UN Charter (Chapter X) its main objectives are as follows:
— to promote higher standards of living, full employment and economic and social progress;
— to indentify solutions to international economic, social and health problems;
— to facilitate international cultural and educational cooperation;
— to promote universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
ECOSOC’s role notably includes the examination of international economic and social issues and the development of practical recommendations on these issues for the Member States and the UN system as a whole. The Council has the power to assist with the preparation and organization of major international conferences in the economic and social fields and in other related areas and to facilitate a coordinated follow-up to these conferences.
The debate over the place and role of ECOSOC comes up regularly:
— In 2002, President Chirac mentioned the idea of an Economic and Social Council
— In 2004, Belgium and Germany proposed transforming ECOSOC into an economic, social and environmental security council
— At the Davos Summit in 2009, Angela Merkel stressed the need to create a UN Economic Council.
While sustainable development governance is emerging as one of the two themes on the agenda of the Rio+20 Conference (June 2012), the issue of the relevance of ECOSOC in a new architecture is once again being raised. At the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2011, Swiss President, Mrs. Calmy Rey, mentioned the possibility that ECOSOC would become a “Sustainability Council” on this occasion.
Since its creation in 1946, ECOSOC has undergone several reform projects. Although progress has been achieved in terms of the effectiveness and the consolidation of its role among the bodies responsible for coordinating the UN system, there are still calls for the Council to be strengthened.
At the World Summit in 2005, the heads of State and government agreed to continue strengthening ECOSOC’s current functions as well as to assign it important new functions. Shortly afterwards, the General Assembly adopted resolution 61/16 on “Strengthening of the Economic and Social Council,” which:
— Reaffirms the role of ECOSOC as the principal body for coordination, policy review, policy dialogue and the formulation of recommendations on issues of economic and social development
— 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
— Mandates ECOSOC to hold a biennial Development Cooperation Forum (DCF) in order to review trends and progress in international development cooperation (aid quality and quantity, policy guidance on practical measures and policy options on how to enhance its coherence and effectiveness), i.e. issues relating to aid quality and quantity, and to make recommendations regarding the policies and practices likely to enhance its coherence and its effectiveness
— The Council been given the mandate to convene ad-hoc meetings on specific humanitarian crises at the request of the affected State in order to assess the threat to development and to encourage coordinated responses.
— The resolution also gave a clear message for the Peacebuilding Commission to learn from the Economic and Social Council’s experiences in the area of post-conflict peacebuilding and the success of its ad hoc advisory groups.
In this same resolution 61/16, the General Assembly called for a review of the reform of ECOSOC during its 65th session. This review was conducted by the Chilean ambassador through consultations with the Member States and resulted in the publication, in June 2011, of a report on the review of the implementation of resolution 61/16.
The discussions focused on the evaluation of the effectiveness of the implementation of certain elements of the reform, particularly the reform of the DCF, the reform of the Annual Ministerial Review and the reform of the relationship with the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC). During the consultation process, several reform ideas were put forward but none were described in detail in the final report.
The first part of the report gives an overview of the positions of the Member States on the review of resolution 61/16 and the second part provides the conclusions as well as the proposals on the reform and improvement of ECOSOC’s working methods. The States welcomed the positive progress represented by resolution 61/16 aimed at strengthening ECOSOC. Nevertheless, many of them acknowledged that the Council could still be improved, notably by strengthening its relations with the other bodies, by improving the level of participation and the interactivity of ECOSOC’s annual dialogue with the Bretton Woods institutions (World Bank, IMF).
The main recommendations contained in the report include:
— increased interaction with the other UN organs
— a call for the high-level participation of the various actors in events organized by ECOSOC
— greater visibility of ECOSOC and the rationalization of the agency’s working methods
— strengthened relations between ECOSOC and the funds and programs
— encouraging the DCF to involve a varied audience
— improving the coordination role of ECOSOC’s specialist agencies
— greater participation by the regional commissions in the Annual Ministerial Review
— participation in the Annual Ministerial Review of ECOSOC’s subsidiary bodies
— increased commitment on the part of ECOSOC to the MDGs.
A new review of resolution 61/16 will be carried out at the 67th session of the GA.
General Assembly website on ECOSOC reform