In the year commemorating the UN"s 50th anniversary, it is especially important that the Social Summit seize the opportunity to begin a determined process of rethinking and reform not only about social development, but also about the system that the UN Charter put into place a half a century ago. One of the central challenges for governments will be to give practical effect to the new vision of people-centered development that is emerging from this process. Efforts at the national level will have to ensure that civil society is empowered to participate in economic, social and political decision-making processes.
Another important challenge for governments will be to "operationalize" the Programme of Action. Many NGOs fear that the commitments that will be agreed to at the very highest political level in Copenhagen will not result in the concrete actions needed to bring about real change "in the field." This fear is fueled by the fact that the language in the Programme of Action is considered by many to be too weak, vague and ambiguous, with few concrete targets and timetables for action, let alone criteria for measuring success. Translating the Programme of Action it into real action will necessitate the reorientation of national budgets towards social development. In the era of fiscal restraint and dwindling aid flows, governments will have to increase the effectiveness of existing monies, clarify human development priority concerns, and develop suitable programmes as well as the means for measuring the impact of those initiatives.
International responses are also essential. The extent to which the Bretton Woods institutions reform their practices in adherence to the principles enshrined in the Declaration will be a key basis for evaluating the success of the Social Summit. UN system follow-up is also of central importance. Several NGOs are concerned that plans for UN system implementation and follow-up are too fragmented. With responsibilities to be discharged to many different UN bodies, it is feared that follow-up could fall through the cracks of the UN.
With 95% of the draft Declaration and Programme of Action already agreed to, and the participation of more than 90 Heads of State or Government already confirmed, the symbolic success of the World Summit for Social Development is all but guaranteed. However, it may take years to determine if the Summit will be a success in the field. Delegates can negotiate and Heads of State or Government can give animated statements, but unless the commitments are fulfilled and the Programme of Action is implemented, the World Summit for Social Development will be no more than a mere blip on the UN radar screen. Effective implementation and follow-up is the true challenge for Copenhagen and beyond.
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