Event Reports

The UN Development Reform: A German Perspective

by Sebastian Borchmeyer
Sebastian Paust, Director of the Division „United Nations“ in the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) spoke at a luncheon with German UN employees on November 7th about the UN Secretary-Generals reform initiatives, for he expressed the full support of his agency. The event was co-hosted by KAS New York Office and the Association of German Employees at International Organisations (VDBIO).

Dr. Paust started his presentation with a brief on the current development of the UN reform streams, which the UN Secretary General has initiated since his inauguration in 2017. He particularly emphasized António Guterres’ determination and perseverance. In fact, many Member States seemed surprised by the high level of determination and speed with which the different structural reform proposals have been brought forward. In this regard, the current efforts differ already from earlier, mostly unsuccessful proposals. In addition, they had been worked out in great detail and in a concrete way, which facilitated decision-making by the Member States. Mr. Paust was impressed by the fact that the United Nations, which many observers regard as incapable to reform, can today even be seen as a role model for structural reforms in the multilateral context. Nevertheless, any reform in international organizations can only be as good as their Member States are willing to take part in it.

In his following remarks Mr. Paust focused especially on the field of development cooperation. The central aim of the reform within the development cooperation is to make the United Nations fully operational ("fit for purpose") in order to take on the key role in the implementation of the SDGs and as the leading universal confederation of states. An important point is the enhancement of the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) and the so-called Resident Coordinator System, which is responsible for the effective cooperation and coordination of the UN and its specialized agencies at the country level. It is primarily about strengthening the instruments available for this purpose, such as the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), a country-specific partnership strategy for UN development cooperation.

While the reform processes give rise to much hope and very promising negotiation breakthroughs have been achieved despite the complex situation with 193 Member States with voting rights, there are still uncertainties that could endanger the success of this major project. These include the transition of the Development Coordination Office, the administrative body of the UNDG, from UNDP to the United Nations Secretariat, which lacks clarity regarding staffing as well as the future authority of the Resident Coordinator vis-à-vis the respective head of UN agencies on the ground, which together form the UN Country Team. Ultimately, the complex and uncertain financing structure also poses a challenge. Mr. Paust regretted that Member States were unable to agree on the Secretary-General's model after which the budget of the new structures was supposed to be drawn from the assessed contributions. Instead, a complicated system was chosen, which makes long-term planning difficult.

Following this, there was a lively discussion on the proposed Funding Compact of the Secretary-General, which seeks to ease the earmarking of contributions to the UN system in favor of greater flexibility, for of which Mr. Paust was appreciative. As an example, he mentioned that his ministry had funded more than 500 individual United Nations initiatives over the 2015-17 period; across the entire German Government it would clearly be more than a thousand resulting in high transaction cost. Mr. Paust insisted that the Secretary-General's reforms should therefore not be confined to the UN system, but should be continued on the donor side. One solution would be a stronger shift towards contributions to the core budget and so-called pooled funding instruments.