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Helle Degn on Social Summit 26 Aug 1994

THE EARTH TIMES/SOCIAL SUMMIT PREPCOM

AUGUST 26, 1994

‘The Social Summit will facilitate the democratic reform process all over…’

By Daniel J. Shepard and Ashali Varma

Helle Degn, Denmark’s Minister for Development Cooperation, is one of a handful of  high-level national officials who will openly predict success for the 1995 World Summit for Social Development.  That may be because Denmark is the host country.  It may also be because Denmark has poured extraordinary resources into making the Summit happen, including assisting scores of NGOs to attend PrepComs. Excerpts from an Interview:

Do you see any indication that we’re getting past words, and into actions?

I think it’s maybe a little too early to comment on how the August PrepCom will turn out.  The plan of action could be the practical follow up, on the commentaries of hopes and aspirations.  I also was happy to listen to the G-77 messages.  Message number one was: “We see all the problem, but we don’t use the old phrasing.”  This is very important: it offers new opportunities for dialogue.

During the first PrepCom, I thought that there was a lot of confusion in the NGO environment.  This time, I think they are more on the track.  There’s still a lot of organizational work to do.

Do you see the Summit as action-oriented? Or is it a sort of global consciousness-raising?

First of all, I think we need to offer ourselves as a forum for the exchange of our visions and dreams and aspirations.  This is a really unique situation in political history.  We are trying now to develop new mechanisms of trade, and of global security.  We need to be able to act, and to be aware of the problems of tomorrow. The Social Summit also is about security in our daily lives.  Access to food, water, education, health, family planning services—this is security.

The goals of the summit—–fighting poverty, fighting unemployment, social integration—-aren’t contested.  The question has always been: What do you do to achieve these goals?

No, the question is the commitment.  Are we able to show to each other serious commitment for a common project? Can the main actors be serious about their

commitment to a new kind of solidarity? The UN is not a world government.  We don’t need that.  We need a global commitment to global solutions.

We also need to commit ourselves to solve our common problems.  Poverty, environmental questions, and the like don’t respect national borders. I would also like to see the UN facilitate technical assistance in establishing nations.  In South Africa, we saw a democratic, rather than a military takeover. Tools affect a major change.  One hundred years ago, it all would have ended up in bloodshed. In Eastern Europe also, we are trying to create a new trade system using democratic tools.

I don’t know what the result will be. But I know what I hope for:  An open world, where we have equal opportunities, equal access to trade markets, to international money facilities, economic facilities, and a more fair sharing of welfare.

How will the Cairo Conference affect the Social Summit?

I’ll be head of the Danish delegation to the Cairo Conference.  Cairo will be an indication for the Social Summit in Copenhagen. I would like to see us commit ourselves to a more equitable distribution of wealth in this world.  Development aid is too diffused, and too disorganized.

Has the process of preparing to host the Social Summit been what you were expecting?

It’s like preparing to give life to a new baby.  You don’t know what the outcome will be.  You just try your best.  You have an enormous responsibility to do your utmost, to see a lucky baby born.  This is what I would like to see in Copenhagen.

What does the Social Summit mean to Denmark?

It’s an enormous challenge for such a tiny country like Denmark to host such an important international event.  It is a heavy burden for a small nation of only 5 million people.  But we are preparing ourselves—mentally, politically, and economically—to live up to the world’s expectations.

The UN has produced a lot of conferences on specific topics.  But with the Social Summit, we are offering a meeting point for heads of state.  This is really an event.

Do you have any specific proposals that you would like to see contained in the Program of Action?

No.  I agree with the themes we have established as a priority.  I feel that we still need to express ourselves as clearly as possible in order to fulfill our aspirations.  This is what I’m working for. Of course, I hope that all the delegations will come to Denmark, and that they will be composed of fifty percent women and men.

Some people are asking, “Aren’t you a little afraid of the missing link from a conference to a concrete result? Have you seen what has happened after Rio?”

I respond that I’m more positive than that. I think a lot of consciousness and knowledge have come out of Rio. This is the mechanism of conferences. Conferences raise awareness, knowledge. They are a forum in which to exchange results, and to exchange ideas, to cope with problems.

I think the Social Summit in Copenhagen will facilitate the democratic reform process

in various regions of the world, especially in Africa, and in Asia. Both official governments and NGOs will be inspired by the possibility of exchanging experiences in

an international forum.. We can have a meeting point. This is what Copenhagen will offer to head of states, to NGOs of the world.

What reform, if any, should the Social Summit inspire in the operations of the UN itself?

The UN must try to become a mechanism to handle our common problems. Perhaps

we could set up a similar body, and equal  to, the Security Council. I don’t know what the structure should be, but we need a social council. We should really help each other to prevent human or natural disasters before they grow enormous and overwhelming. Using only weapons is not a solution.

We saw that in Angola; we still see it in Angola. We also see it in Sudan, in Somalia,

and in Rwanda. We also need to reorganize the administration. It needs to be efficient,

clear cut, and organized. What we need is an international world where it doesn’t matter if a Dane, or a Chinese woman is handling the problem in this institution. To me, the most important thing is that it is efficient, uncorrupted.

Then we must re-organize all the many special agencies. They overlap.

I say all these things because I want to see the UN survive into the next century. I

would like to see the UN have new power and new responsibilities. So, that’s a lot of work to do. If UN is not efficient, then a lot of governments will fall for the temptation to make privatized, bilateral solutions.

Do you see the will to change? Do you think change will really happen?

That’s what the Social Summit is all about.  The 50th anniversary of the UN is a time to rethink the first 50 years of this institution.  It is a time to ask: What will the UN be doing for the next 50 years?

If we spoil the work of the UN, if we lack commitment to carry out the goals of the UN, if we don’t grab the moment to reorganize this institution, well then, I think we will be blamed in the history books.