Plenipotentiary Conference 1998 -- Minneapolis USA

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Briefing Notes 16 of 2 November
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Management of the Union

Use of Languages in the ITU

Most of this morning’s discussions focused on the proposal to gradually lift the current limitations on the use of the six official and working languages (French, English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Russian). The proposal was the result of an ad hoc group on languages which Committee 7 had set up. The proposal, in the form of a Resolution, was for the gradual lifting of the limitation on the use of the six languages on the proviso that it did not hinder the efficient functioning of Union conferences and assemblies. The linking between gradual lifting and efficient functioning was not agreed on in the ad hoc group, and language concerning efficient functioning was submitted to Committee 7 in square brackets.

Although the 1989 Nice Plenipotentiary Conference agreed to introduce the six official languages as working languages, it did so with a restriction on the scope of application (not required for Final Acts, resolutions, questions and recommendations, handbooks, etc).

European countries expressed strong views by simply stating that they had no more money for the ITU, and that whatever increase of expenditures in the use of languages would have to be at the detriment of other activities. They also expressed concerns over the negative impact they felt such increase in the use of languages would have on the performance of Conferences, in particular on Radiocommunication Conferences, which could be jeopardized because they were particularly prone to time pressures (translation in three more languages of proposals and reports of negotiating groups, final acts which must be made available at the time of signing, etc). They also emphasized the fact that this Conference had as objectives the streamlining of the functioning of the ITU, not a complication of its processes.

Proponents of the lifting of the limitation, on the other hand, argued they were not discussing the introduction of new languages, but the suppression of a discriminatory measure brought about by this limitation. It was also stressed that other UN agencies did use all their official languages without impairing their efficiency. On the opposite, the use of the six languages in other agencies facilitate negotiations because it improves a better understanding of the positions taken by various linguistic groups and enriches the discussions.

A proposal aimed at bridging the gap between the two positions, consisted in asking the Council to evaluate the impact of extending the use of the working and official languages, including the impact on efficiency. The gradual lifting would therefore be approved by the Plenipotentiary Conference on an experimental basis to provide Council with some facts on which to assess the impact. However, several delegations, said they would not welcome the proposal unless the Council was also instructed to review the expanded use of languages within a zero nominal growth and without altering the organization’s priorities set by this Conference.

After a lengthy debate, the chair decided to report to Plenary the main positions expressed and inform it of the lack of consensus on this issue.

Strengthening of the Regional Presence

Committee 7 decided to strengthen the ITU presence in the various regions of the Union, and give them delegated authority to make decisions within their mandate, while improving the coordination with Headquarters. It also asked the regional offices to strengthen cooperation with regional organizations and other international organizations dealing with development and financial matters. It tasked the Council to review their role, functions and objectives and instructed it to include as a standing agenda item examination of the situation and continuing structural adaptation and operation as required. The required appropriations were included in the draft Financial Plan (see Briefing Notes N° 15)

Financial Plan for 2000-2003

The whole evening session was devoted to the discussions of the consolidated draft Financial Plan for 2000-2003.

At the outset, the Chairperson stated that what was not resolved would be transferred to the Plenary for discussion. The Secretary-General introduced the draft Financial Plan as revised at the request of the Conference. Among the salient points of the new document, the Secretary-General said that the ceilings for both level of expenditure and contributory units were showing a zero nominal growth. He stressed that the elected officials had done what was requested of them, but it was neither motivating nor, he felt, in the interest of the membership that they had done so. He said he hoped this new document would now be approved by the meeting both in its approach and in figures provided. He also made clear any new decisions the Conference would take having financial implications could only be met through a decrease in the products and services delivered by the Union to its members.

Then, the whole document was torn apart. Some delegations questioned the decrease of income from publications sales, others observed that regional development conferences had gone from 3 to 2 and wanted to know why. Another questioned the grounds on which cost recovery income for the processing of satellite network filings had gone from CHF 30 millions to CHF 6 millions. Despite responses to concerns raised, delegations maintained their positions. On the statements made of the lack of transparency in the budget preparation, the Secretary-General qualified the criticism as unwarranted and said the secretariat had done its very best with the information available from this Conference. He reminded delegates they could hardly expect precise figures when most of the contentious decisions with high financial impact such as cost recovery or the use of languages were yet to be made by this Conference. The figures given were therefore the best approximation that could be made and delegations had to take their responsibility.

Following protracted discussions, the Netherlands rejected the financial plan as unacceptable supported by the UK, the US, France and Australia. Several other countries expressed support for the Plan but no agreement could be reached despite appeals from the Chair that the financial plan was not a budget but only a framework to guide Council in its appropriation work. Moving away from the Plan, the Committee then attempted to set expenditure ceilings for the two biennial budgets to be prepared by Council, also to no avail. On a proposal to give Council a 5% margin over the ceilings, strong opposition was immediately voiced, leading one delegate to wonder why such misgivings were made on the delegation of authority to the Council when most corporate entities and government bodies in this room were giving their Boards the latitude and authority they were refusing ITU.

In view of the total stalemate, the Chairperson decided to close the meeting and refer the matter to Plenary.

Plenary Meeting

The Plenary deferred until tomorrow morning discussions on the number and distribution of posts of the Radio Regulations Board, therefore postponing elections.

The meeting also approved in first reading a number of documents, including resolutions on staff and financial matters. It also adopted the resolution on World Telecommunication Policy Forum where the Conference decided to maintain the possibility of closing certain sessions to Member States only. The meeting also approved most articles of the Constitution revised by this Conference. A long debate took place on the provisions for amending the Constitution along the same lines as those which Committee 6 had on the same subject. However, coffee break negotiations resolved the issue. It was decided to maintain the text as is and introduce a footnote in the consolidated document that will include the text of the Constitution and Convention to explain the spirit of the provision (See Briefing Notes N° 11, page 4 for details).n

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