Short for GA by ABBREVIATIONFINDER, The UN General Assembly is not a world parliament. It has no legislative functions but can only give recommendations to states. Nor is there any guarantee that the governments represented in the General Assembly have been democratically elected. Like a national parliament, however, the General Assembly decides on budgetary matters.
In the General Assembly, each of the UN member states has a voice, regardless of factors such as population or economic strength. The voice of the billionaire country of China weighs as heavily as the small putt state of San Marinos. The system may seem undemocratic. At the same time, the General Assembly is one of the few places in world politics where even small states have a say. For many smaller states, especially from the third world, meetings of the General Assembly are also invaluable opportunities to cultivate diplomatic contacts.
The Assembly functions in many ways as a huge debate forum, where states can air opinions on the most diverse issues. A resolution of the General Assembly is not binding on the individual states but is considered to entail a moral obligation. Decisions on budgetary and administrative matters are, however, binding.
The General Assembly has been criticized for its congested agenda and the long speeches. On the other hand, it is often during these long speeches that members of the delegation can meet more informally and perhaps agree on compromises on difficult issues. In general, the “corridor talks” have an important function within the UN system. During the 2000’s, however, efforts have been made to shorten the agenda of the General Assembly. The General Assembly has the right to deal with all international issues that fall within the framework of the UN’s activities, since 1950 through the cooperation-for-peace resolution also ongoing peace and security issues in the Security Council (see Framväxten).
Like the Swedish Riksdag, the General Assembly has a number of committees that draft resolutions. The committees’ proposals are presented in the General Assembly’s plenary session. Most often, the countries agree without debate. But it happens that there is a vote, and then it is normally enough for more than half of the delegates to vote for a resolution for it to pass. However, some particularly important issues require a two-thirds majority.
The countries have traditionally voted in special groups. In addition to the major blocs, during the Cold War east and west and later north and south, there are also smaller groups, such as the Non-Aligned Movement and the G77 (Cooperation Group for Developing Countries within the UN Conference on Trade and Development, Unctad), which bring together many developing countries, as well as the Islamic Cooperation Organization (OIC). EU countries are increasingly acting as a common group. In recent years, however, the traditional groupings have begun to become less important in many polls.
The members are divided into five different groups (the Asian, African and Latin American groups as well as the East and West groups). The division shall contribute to making the appointment of managerial positions and various assignments geographically fair.
The General Assembly’s regular session begins in mid-September. Special sessions can be held on various issues.
Coordination of the UN system
The diversity of institutions with activities that often overlap requires a great deal of coordination within the UN system. However, coordination has often been lacking.
Ecosoc was tasked by the founding members of the United Nations to coordinate economic and social activities. Ecosoc, for example, has the right to ask the heads of the various professional bodies for activity reports and must have insight into the specialist bodies’ budget work. The Council may also call for discussions between different bodies and make recommendations, which the specialized bodies are not obliged to follow.
Coordination and overall management are intended to be conducted within a special committee (formerly ACC, now called CEB). Within this, the heads of the specialist bodies and the larger assistant bodies meet. The President is the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
The intention is also that Ecosoc’s annual ministerial meeting, which was introduced in 2006, will have a coordinating function.
The Secretary-General was asked by the UN Summit in 2005 to investigate how the UN’s work for development, humanitarian efforts and the environment can be strengthened and coordinated. A high-level expert group was appointed to make recommendations. Among other things, the group proposed that the development work of the UN system should be coordinated in each individual country under a special budget. This would reduce duplication of work and inefficiency. Attempts have since been made in eight pilot countries to coordinate the UN agencies’ development work according to this “delivering as one” concept. In January 2012, the Secretary General launched a development of this coordination with more focus on follow-up of results and responsibilities.