Lamy Urges Raising UN ECOSOC Profile

In this speech Pascal Lamy (Director General of the WTO) restates his views on what the future of global governance should look like. Lamy argues that there is no realistic alternative to “globalization” save for “better globalization” which involves a more legitimate and efficient form of global governance. This “better” form is to be substantiated by the concerted efforts of the UN, specialized international agencies (such as the WTO, IMF) and  the G-20 (with the latter spearheading the group). Lamy asserts that the UN is especially important in this “network” because of its “remarkably positive perception by citizens” which should allow it to provide more legitimacy to its co-contributors. Lamy also envisions a greater role for ECOSOC - then on a political par with the Security Council - despite acknowledging that past proposals to that end have repeatedly fallen upon deaf ears.

By Pascal Lamy

June 28, 2011

Keynote Speech at Thematic Debate on the United Nations in Global Governance

Dear Secretary-General,

Dear Joseph,

Distinguished representatives,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to be here today to participate in this thematic debate on the United Nations in global governance, an issue of the utmost importance given the urgency of the global challenges we are facing. But before turning to the substance of today’s debate, let me congratulate you, Mr. Secretary General, for your recent re-election at the head of this august institution. The coming five years will, I am sure, be very demanding and challenging.

The ever-growing openness and interdependence of our world brings many benefits, increasing opportunities for billions of people around the world to escape poverty, stimulating innovation and growth, but it also entails costs and risks that we seem to have difficulty managing. Economic and financial shocks spread faster than ever before. While climate change threatens to profoundly affect our economies and ways of life, the international community is struggling to craft an appropriate response. The discrepancy between the reality of today’s interdependence, the challenges resulting from it, and the capacity of global governance to harness them is striking.

What can we do to fill this gap? Some advocate “deglobalization”: let’s turn back on globalization, let’s lessen our interdependence and the world will get better! I do not think this can work. It is neither possible, nor desirable. It is not possible because the main engine of globalization is technological progress, and technology moves forward, not backward. And it is not desirable either. Who would want to give up the benefits that come with globalization? Should we stop travelling by airplane to avoid the spread of pandemics? Would you be ready to renounce your cherished mobile phone and Internet connection? Should we put a halt to global production chains, which have helped so many developing countries benefit from open trade? The reality we live in has its downsides, but it has many advantages. Turning back on globalization is illusory.

So what other option do we have? To increase our capacity to manage global challenges through enhanced global governance mechanisms. To build, or more precisely to strengthen the three pillars that are indispensable to any governance system: leadership, legitimacy, and efficiency.

A prerequisite is to acknowledge that the international governance system is different from domestic governance. Global governance raises a number of problems of its own. It cannot simply replicate national governance systems.

First, legitimacy at the international level is much weaker than at the national level. This is not surprising as legitimacy is inversely proportional to distance. The specific challenge of legitimacy in global governance is to deal with the perceived too-distant, non-accountable and non-directly challengeable decision-making at the international level. International organizations only provide for what I call “secondary legitimacy” — as opposed to the “primary legitimacy” conferred by the direct participation of citizens. While it might be possible to make up for this lack of legitimacy through a sense of belonging, of community, of solidarity, based on common values, such sense of belonging does not yet exist on a global scale.

Second, efficiency is hampered by the Westphalian order and the primacy of sovereign nation-states that comes with it — sovereign nation-states that often have differing interests; that often lack coherence, arguing one position in an international organization, and its opposite in another. Sovereign nation-states that often resist transferring or sharing jurisdiction over certain matters within an international setting. Decision-making at the international level usually requires long and painful negotiations marked by repetitive delays and obscure bargaining. I am sure you are all familiar with this!

As for leadership, the intrinsic difficulty of global governance is to identify the leader. Who is the leader? What leadership?

These constraints are real, but not ineluctable. Decision-making can be improved while preserving the principle of equality of nation-states. Various models exist. Best practices should be identified and spread. Efficiency of global governance lies essentially with specialized agencies, which are the ones that possess expertise. This is where efforts to improve efficiency should focus.

Leadership at the international level is collective. Replacing the G8 with the G20, which is more inclusive and representative, was an important step, even though the G20 does not decide. It is not a world government, but it gives signals, impulses that matter for us all.

As for legitimacy, I see two avenues to strengthen it. First, domestically, by increasing the visibility of international issues and giving citizens a greater say. By incorporating them into the public debate at the national level. Presidents, prime-ministers, parliamentarians, trade unions and civil society movements need to engage more actively in global issues and institutions. Instead of globalizing local issues, we should be localizing them. Global institutions need to be held more accountable to national parliaments and voters. The UN could play an important role in this regard given its remarkably positive perception by citizens. Second, internationally, by enhancing the UN system as a legitimation process, as a forum for reporting and debate, as an overall accountability pillar. I remember I was here last September at the MDG summit. A good example, in my view, of a process of peer review that helps move positions which would otherwise remain entrenched.

I do not think it is about more or less globalization. The future lies in my view in “better globalization”; in a better articulation of the three pillars of governance; in more coordination, cooperation and interaction between the UN, the G20 and the specialized agencies. This is what I have called the “triangle of coherence”. Coherence that the Global Governance Group, the so-called 3G, has also been advocating in its various statements.

This triangle is slowly emerging. The UN Secretary General participates in G20 meetings, alongside the heads of a number of other international organizations, including the WTO. Specialized agencies have been invited to contribute to G20 debates via joint reports, such as the one the WTO co-authored with the OECD, the World Bank and the ILO on “Seizing the Benefits of Trade for Employment and Growth”, or the more recent one that the FAO, OECD, UNCTAD, World Bank, WFP and others produced on “Price Volatility in Food and Agricultural Markets”. And I am pleased to note that several G20 briefings to the UN General Assembly have been organized under the Presidency of Joseph Deiss. These are undeniably very positive developments.

The challenge of global governance today is also about “networking” institutions in a better way in order to align the global governance structure that emerged from WWII with today’s growing interdependence. The UN has a crucial role to play in this.

At the global level, unlike on the domestic scene, the three pillars of governance — leadership, efficiency and legitimacy — are split among various structures. Where the UN has an undeniable comparative advantage is in terms of legitimacy. The United Nations are the only truly global organization, the only organization that represents the universe of State interests.

There is one UN body that has a pivotal role to play in my view in this triangle of coherence I just described: the ECOSOC. Why the ECOSOC? Because the issues discussed at G20 meetings fall within its purview. A strong ECOSOC is essential to balance the two other sides of the triangle and ensure greater coherence and efficiency of economic, social and development measures at a global level.  Numerous proposals have been formulated over the years to enhance the political significance of the Council. What I believe we need today is to turn the ECOSOC into a Council that would have the same political prominence as the Security Council — for economic, social and development issues are today the foundation of peace, in a globalized world which is very different from what it was 60 years ago. A Council that would, of course, be representative of today’s geopolitics. A Council that would be tasked to assess the overall state of the world economy; to provide a long-term strategic policy framework and policy direction in order to promote stable, balanced, and sustainable development; to ensure consistency between the activities and policy goals of the various international organizations dealing with economic, social and development issues, including the Bretton Woods Institutions and the WTO. A Council that would be a genuine forum for reporting, debate, policy setting and coherence setting. Such a reform is in my view the gateway to adapting the UN mission to today’s realities.

I thank you for your attention.