ENB:10:44 [Next] . [Previous] . [Contents]

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

ECONOMIC FRAMEWORK OF THE DOCUMENTS: In their alternative Declaration, NGOs challenged the economic framework adopted in the Programme of Action as contradictory with the objectives of equitable and sustainable social development. They maintain that the over-reliance on unaccountable "open, free-market forces" as a basis for organizing national and international economies aggravates the current global social crisis. NGOs and many developing countries had hoped that the documents would establish a mechanism to examine the implications of the WTO. In fact, on the first day of the Summit, the UN Secretary-General, as well as the Prime Ministers of Denmark and Norway, acknowledged that while the free- market does generate wealth, it also creates social polarities. While there was disappointment that the text does not address the problems with the structures that underlie the current international political economy, few actually thought that these discussions could or would have taken place here. Nevertheless, the international community has acknowledged that it is a central challenge to be faced into the next millennium.

BALANCE BETWEEN NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY AND GLOBAL ACTION: The debate on rights language, including human rights and the right to development, highlighted the extent to which national sovereignty is still one of the biggest obstacles to global action. Sovereignty language proposed by the G-77, which referred to "territorial integrity and non-interference," was one such topic of debate. The G-77 proposed this language as an attempt to protect against foreign interference in their international affairs and defense arrangements. By contrast, the EU preferred language that would enable them to influence national priorities in the name of social development. Amb. Butler characterized these negotiations as "yesterday"s politics trying to catch up with tomorrow"s agenda." The negotiations on these issues sought a balanced outcome for the relationship between national sovereignty and the international community. Debates on a scale such as this may contribute to changing the balance, but the process of change is not clear, and will likely be slow. As with the international political economy, the Summit could not be expected to be a forum for major changes on these matters.

STATUS QUO ON BILATERAL DEBT RELIEF: There was considerable disappointment that the Summit could not take bolder steps on bilateral debt relief. Many felt that mere endorsement of past agreements reached in the Paris Club and the General Assembly will do little to alleviate the immense suffering of developing countries, who spend more per capita on debt servicing than on basic human priorities. Others suggested that the most that the Social Summit could do in the current political and economic climate was to reiterate the existing consensus.

TOBIN TAX SET ASIDE: There was considerable disappointment that the Tobin Tax on international currency transactions was set aside. Many felt that its potential for generating considerable revenue for social development spending was hastily overlooked.

NO NEW AND ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: Developing countries were especially disappointed that their proposal for a special fund for social development was not adopted. As well, the G-77 proposal for "new and additional resources" was weakened. The Declaration and the Programme of Action call for "efforts to mobilize" such funds, for "developing innovative sources of funding," or for using "all available funding sources." Some think that donor countries interpret the language to mean that private sources will make up any difference from the status quo.

CHALLENGES FOR THE FUTURE

Whether the Social Summit succeeds in reaching its stated goals of poverty eradication, generation of productive employment, and social integration depends on the extent to which the international community can overcome its inertia and translate political commitments into concrete policies and action at the national level. In the year commemorating the UN"s 50th anniversary, it is especially important that governments 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 century ago, which will now be charged with a central role in social development.

One of the central challenges for governments will be to give practical effect to the new vision of people-centered development. Efforts at the national level will have to ensure that civil society is empowered to participate in economic, social and political decision-making processes. No effective agenda for social development can succeed without the participation of organized civil society and NGOs. In the follow-up process, their active involvement must be sought at all stages.

Another important challenge for governments will be to operationalize the Programme of Action. Despite the few concrete targets and timetables, real action on the Programme of Action will necessitate: the prompt formulation and implementation of time-bound poverty eradication strategies; the reorientation of national budgets to meet these aims; clarification of human development priority concerns; and the means for measuring the impact of national-level initiatives. In the era of fiscal restraint and dwindling aid flows, developing countries will have to increase the effectiveness of existing monies. This must be matched, however, by a willingness of developed countries to take more concrete action on debt relief for both low and middle-income countries.

International responses will also be critical. There is relatively good language in the Programme of Action on the need for greater coordination between the Bretton Woods institutions and the UN. However, the extent to which the World Bank and the IMF reform their practices to adhere to the principles enshrined in the text, and commit themselves to multilateral debt relief and a new framework for socially responsible SAPs will be a key basis for assessing the success of the Social Summit.

[Return to start of article]