What's In Blue

Posted Mon 19 Oct 2015

Working Methods Open Debate

Tomorrow the Council will hold its sixth annual open debate on working methods. The debate is expected to address key concerns about the working methods of the Council, including transparency, participation, accountability and efficiency. The briefers for the debate will be the president of the General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and Ambassador Sven Jćrgenson (Estonia), vice-president of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). At press time over fifty members have indicated that they would like to participate in the debate.

Spain circulated a concept note for the debate proposing that members focus on how the Council can improve its efficiency and transparency in its relationship with non-Council members, including the General Assembly and ECOSOC, as well as with the Secretariat. The original idea was to focus on the relationship between the Council and the General Assembly, with the president of the General Assembly being the only briefer. This was opposed strongly by Russia, who wanted to have other briefers, particularly someone from the Secretariat.

The concept note also suggests that participants could draw lessons from developments in working methods over the last five years, and could identify areas where more progress can be made in implementing measures in notes agreed by the Council’s Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions.

Council members may highlight the Council’s recent performance in dealing with various crisis situations and suggest changes in the Council’s working methods culture that could improve its effectiveness in dealing with some of the more intractable issues on the agenda. In previous working methods debates, a number of issues related to the relationship between the permanent and elected members were raised, including the penholdership system and the veto. Both these issues are likely to be addressed by Council members and by the wider membership. Other areas that might be raised include the role of the president of the Council in relation to the other organs of the UN, and whether the Informal Working Group could play a bigger role in implementing the various notes by the president.

The president of the General Assembly is expected to focus on the institutional relationship between the Council and the General Assembly with a particular emphasis on how the working methods of the Council affect the larger UN membership. He is likely to refer to the recent General Assembly resolution (A/RES/69/321) on the Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly, adopted on 11 September, in the context of more effective cooperation between the two bodies regarding the process for selection of a new Secretary-General. For the first time a General Assembly resolution envisaged joint activity on this process by the Security Council and General Assembly. Resolution 69/321 asked for the Security Council and General Assembly presidents to start the selection process by circulating a joint letter inviting candidates to be presented in a timely manner and to circulate joint information on candidates on an ongoing basis.

Other areas from the resolution that the General Assembly president may cover include informal dialogues with candidates conducted by the General Assembly, and the qualifications for a Secretary-General. Member states are also expected to take up these issues, with some of them also highlighting issues that were not addressed in the resolution, notably the possible Council recommendation of multiple candidates to the General Assembly and a single non-renewable term for the Secretary-General.

The president of the General Assembly may also wish to focus on the Council’s annual report to the Assembly and in particular, how the Council could provide a more analytical report of its activities to the General Assembly in the future. This year’s introduction to the report, which is scheduled for adoption tomorrow, is considerably shorter than in recent years, but it was difficult to get agreement on having a much shorter, more analytical version. This matter has been taken up sporadically by the Informal Working Group, but there has not been any decision on changing the format. Members who were keen on a shorter report, like Lithuania, may choose to focus on this issue.

According to Article 65 of the UN Charter, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) may “furnish information to the Security Council and assist the Security Council, upon its request”. One of the areas of collaboration between the Council and ECOSOC in the past had been the challenges of peacebuilding in post-conflict countries. In recent years the ECOSOC president has briefed in debates on women, peace and security. At tomorrow’s open debate a key focus of the ECOSOC president’s briefing is expected to be the link between security and development in relation to attaining sustainable peace, and how this is related to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Council has in a number of decisions highlighted this interdependence, and has recognised ECOSOC’s role in addressing issues such as HIV/AIDS and climate change. Some members may also raise the importance of strengthening the Council’s relations with ECOSOC regarding prevention of conflict.

Deputy Secretary-General Eliasson is expected to talk about the relationship between the Council and the Secretary-General. Among the areas that could be covered are the Secretary-General’s good offices and his role in mediation, peacekeeping and implementation of peace agreements. Article 99 of the Charter, which states that the Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security, may also be referred to by Eliasson, particularly in the context of conflict prevention and the human rights up front initiative. There appears to have been more use recently of the spirit of Article 99, if not of Article 99 itself, with the Secretariat frequently asking to brief on various conflict situations under “any other business” during consultations. There may be suggestions from the larger membership, as well as Council members, of other ways in which the Council could pursue a more proactive conflict prevention role.

The format – as well as the briefers for this open debate – was a contentious issue. In response to complaints about the length of open debates and the lack of interactivity and dialogue between Council members and the larger membership, Spain had made a number of proposals to try and put in practice some of the existing recommendations by the Informal Working Group. However, the proposal of having Council members alternate with non-Council members in delivering statements was rejected by Russia. But the idea of joint statements, which were suggested in order reduce the length of the debate while retaining the substance, will likely be put into practice at tomorrow’s debate. It seems that there may be a joint statement given by some like-minded Council members on ways of improving the Council’s working methods as well as by member states belonging to the Action, Coherence and Transparency group. Members who sign up to a joint statement will still be able to make short national statements.

No outcome is anticipated during the debate, but possible outcomes that would allow the recommendations to be taken forward may be discussed following the debate.

For more information on the Secretary-General selection process and the veto see SCR’s Research Reports on the Appointing the Secretary-General and The Veto.

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