Europe urges Annan to reform the UN

The European Union is to urge the new Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, to take swift and aggressive steps to overhaul the organisation's sprawling web of departments, agencies and specialised funds, if necessary merging some with each other and eliminating others altogether.

The proposals, that have emerged from months of debate between EU governments most recently at foreign minister level, are contained in a 25-page memorandum obtained by The Independent. The document will be presented today to Maurice Strong, the Canadian industrialist who was appointed by Mr Annan at the weekend to bring together an overall reform package.

While the memorandum, which is still classified, is far-reaching in its suggestions for change, it contains repeated warnings that reform at the UN should not be equated with cutting the organisation's budget. The references are meant to put distance between the EU and those voices in the United States, most of them Republican, seeking to use the reform exercise to strip away UN resources. "The reform of the United Nations is not about cost-cutting," it insists.

In what promises to be a critical week, Mr Annan tomorrow begins a visit to Washington, where he will meet for the first time as Secretary General with President Bill Clinton and members of the Congress. Mr Annan must try to persuade members of Congress of his commitment to reform while convincing them to release the more than $1bn in late payments due the UN from the US.

Mr Annan hopes to have a complete package of reform proposals ready by the summer. Mr Strong, 67, who also acted as an adviser to the last Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, will head a task force of advisers on reform. Its other members will include Gustave Speth, the head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), who last year caused controversy by asking that all UN development and humanitarian bodies be streamlined and grouped under his own.

The EU document, which is restricted to addressing UN social and development activities, notably borrows heavily from the controversial Speth proposals.

Where the need for rationalisation is clear, the paper said, the "Union considers that funds and programmes so assesses could be merged ... the assessment should extend to all funds and programmes".

In a nod to Mr Speth's allusion to a new umbrella role for his agency, the paper adds: "While fully open to dialogue on best ways forward in this respect, the EU considers that the UNDP could provide a focus for enhanced co-ordination in this area".

Both Mr Speth and Mr Strong have voiced on the record their support for closing down some of the less obviously useful UN agencies such as the UN Industrial Development Organisation in Vienna (from which Britain has just withdrawn) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

The EU also calls for the creation of a new Under-Secretary General who would take overall responsibility for all UN social and development activities. This person would act as Executive Secretary to the Economic and Social Council, the overarching committee of all UN members that oversees all development matters and which would itself be radically streamlined and pared down.

The EU would also like to see the establishment of a single UN headquarters in each country where the UN is represented. At the head of each would be a single UN representative, responsible for co-ordinating all UN efforts in that country.

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