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Democracy and the Millennium Development Goals

Speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 29 April 2013

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, I am very happy to see so many people here. 

The topic of the day is of course the fact that we are now in 2013, which is 13 years into the work to accomplish the original Millennium Development Goals, the original eight goals. I think setting up the Millennium Development Goals has been a tremendous success in the sense that we have achieved progress in many areas, and some countries have been able to comply with all or most of the requirements. Others have not, but at least we know where the shortcomings are and what remains to be done to achieve the original MDGs. And I think the idea of MDGs has been a very good way of focusing the attention of the world community on a number of concrete and measurable goals.

We are now at a very crucial moment in the discussion about what the post-2015 global development agenda should be – what the new global development goals or post-MDGs should be after 2015. And as most of you know, a panel has been appointed to come up with some ideas. We are holding a series of national consultations in many countries, including my own country, bringing together civil society actors, different parts of government, society and international organisations and trying to figure out what the post-2015 development agenda should be.

Lyonpo Dago Tshering, Bhutan, Espen Barth Eide og Sarah Mendelson, USA

Special envoy from Bhutan, Lyonpo Dago Tshering, and Sarah Mendelson, USAID together with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Espen Barth Eide at the panel discussion in Ulaanbaatar. (Photo: Svein A. Michelsen, MFA)

And one big question, one question to all the panellists here today is: Should democracy be a part of the next set of development goals? Should we explicitly say that it is a goal in itself, an additional goal? This country, Mongolia, has invented its own 9th Millennium Development Goal, and has said that the promotion of good governance and democracy is one of its Millennium Development Goals. Should we follow the Mongolian example? Or should we say that democracy is a means through which we should seek to achieve all the other development goals, so that democracy should be seen as a consideration that pervades all the goals, not a separate topic? Or we formulate things differently, by talking of good governance, the rule of law, and so on?

There are strong arguments in different directions. There is also, of course, the argument that bringing in the topic of democracy is controversial in some countries. It may make it more difficult to achieve consensus, but then again we are here as a Community of Democracies, and the reason we are all here is that we believe that significant development and lasting progress can only be achieved through democratic means. So that’s the one topic that I wanted to raise, and now I will go back to my role as the chair of the panel.

To repeat the point that was made in the panel discussion by several of the speakers, the fact that we now have a thriving discussion about democracy and the MDGs is not only a good thing in itself, but it is also a sign that we are living in a changed world. There has been a normative development since the original goals were set. It is no coincidence that we are now talking about quality of government in addition to quality of service delivery. I think it boils down to the point that everybody has made, whether they think democracy should be a separate goal or a pervasive element of all the other goals, that you cannot really achieve genuine development without participation, and you cannot really have participation without democracy. Democracy contributes to governments making the right decisions and it creates a strong civil society that is a resource for governments but also provides a system of checks and balances.

And I think the conclusion of this panel, if I have understood you correctly, is that yes, democracy should be a part of the post-MDG discussion. We will come back to this and decide exactly how it should be done, but those of us who are involved in the UN debates on this issue will make sure that we bring what we have heard here into that debate. And I think we should also take with us the point that we need a goal that is both quantitative and measurable, not just “wishy-washy” desires, but something that we can actually measure. And I think we should at least consider the proposal from our friend from Zimbabwe: what if we were able to demonstrate the differences in relative and absolute development and trends in development between the members of the Community of Democracies and those who are not here?

This is not a bad idea in my view, because there is, out there, the argument that there is an alternative route, a kind of state capitalist alternative route, that you don’t have to “do democracy” because you can deliver services by having a good government that is undemocratic. And I think we really have to take part in that debate. Because it may be obvious to us, but it may not be to everybody else. I know a lot of people who are pondering on that particular question. So let’s say that maybe we did not solve all the questions, but we raised many good questions; we may remain confused, but at least we are confused on a much higher level and that is always a good thing.

Thank you.



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