6:52 AM Jan 12, 1995
UNITED NATIONS: VOLUNTEERS PROGRAMME TO SHIFT TO BONNGeneva Jan 11 (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- The United Nations Volunteer (UNV) programme, now located in Geneva, is to shift to Bonn, according to a decision reached by the Executive Board of the UN Development Programme in New York on Tuesday. The move is expected place in mid-1996. This is the first success in the German Government's efforts to persuade UN agencies and organizations to locate in Bonn -- which would soon lose the Federal government offices there that are to shift to Berlin. An IPS report from Bonn cited German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel as saying: "This is a first step towards Bonn becoming a seat of international bodies... The fact that the decision was taken unanimously proves at the same time the confidence placed in Germany's willingness to assume greater international responsibility". Kinkel, the report added, said that this confidence was evidenced also by Germany's nomination as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council since Jan 1 and that this two-year membership would be "a significant trial run" for a permanent seat in the world body. Germany has staked a claim to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and has been backed by Boutros-Ghali. Swiss authorities shrugged off the decision to shift the UNV from Geneva, with the Swiss media (reflecting official views) describing it as a "consolation prize" by the UN Secretary-General to Germany. The German government failed last year, despite making some very attractive offers, to get the World Trade Organization to be located in Bonn. GATT Contracting Parties preferred to continue in Geneva, citing as a major reason the location in Geneva of other important UN agencies and organizations with which they have to do business. An unstated reason though was most of the country-delegations to the UN organizations in Geneva also service the GATT/WTO (even if the diplomats assigned are different) and were not ready to go to Bonn and set up separate missions, and also remain isolated. Bonn's earlier efforts to persuade the UNICEF and the UN Development Programme to shift from New York failed - despite the backing it got from the UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Thereupon in 1993, Boutros-Ghali offered to German Chancellor Helmut Khol to shift the UNV, and this was accepted by the German Foreign Minister in his speech to the UN General Assembly last September. Some 4000 UN Volunteers work each year with the UNV. They are engaged in 125 countries -- with some 59% in Africa, 22% in Asia and the Pacific, ten percent in the Arab states, seven percent in Latin America and the Caribbean and two percent in the former Soviet republics. The UNV's operations -- in technical cooperation activities in health, training and agriculture, administering humanitarian aid in strife-torn countries, and helping the UN organize and monitor elections -- require also cooperation with UNHCR and ILO (headquartered in Geneva) and the World Food Programme (at the FAO in Rome). The UNV's Executive Coordinator, Brenda Gael McSweeney, welcomed the shift and what she called "significant opportunities" that the location change would bring about for the UNV. The German authorities, she said, had provided a "genuine commitment" to have the UNV programme continue to serve the Third World as successfully from Bonn as from Geneva, and that it would double its financial support to the programme from a current 1.7 million DM to 3.4 million DM. In addition, Germany will also be providing rent-free premises for the UNV's headquarters in Bonn and will meet all financial aspects of the move, for the UNV and its staff. McSweeney also spoke of the Bonn headquartering of the UNV as strengthening the current "excellent working relationships" of the organization with Bonn's Economic Cooperation and Development Ministry, the German Volunteer Service and some of the NGO centres expected to come into being there. IPS adds from Bonn: On Wednesday, Kinkel thanked particularly U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and "partner states" for "not having deprived us of their support in a decision which was by no means easy". Bonn's bid had been backed among others by the United States, Japan and France. The bid to host international bodies is part of Germany's overall goal of boosting Bonn's image as the government prepares to shift its institutions to the new capital, Berlin, toward the year 2000 and turning the city into a North-South Centre. Bonn served as the capital of post-war Germany until unification with the former East Germany four years ago. Rejoicing at the decision, Bonn's newly elected Mayor, Baerbel Dieckmann, said: "It brings us forward and strengthens justified optimism in a good future of our city." The authorities fear that once the federal parliament 'Bundestag' and government offices -- excepting a few ministries and some other institutions -- move to Berlin, the traditional university town of Bonn, with a population of some 300,000 will be left high and dry. This would cost jobs, a situation the local, provincial and federal authorities want to avoid, particularly as Germany's largest populated state, North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), in which Bonn is located, has one of the highest unemployment rates in Germany -- 9.3 percent. A minister in the NRW state government, Wolfgang Clement, who is a staunch advocate of developing Bonn into a North-South Centre, said the decision was of "particular significance, because it also underlines the role of Bonn as the second political centre" in Germany, parallel to Berlin. Backing this view, an eminent development expert, Professor Uwe Holtz, said with the UNV moving to Bonn, the plans to turn the city into a North-South Centre will get a boost. "I do hope that other international and European organisations engaged in the field of development policy -- such as the Society for International Development (SID) -- will follow on the heels of UNV," Professor Holtz told IPS Wednesday. Prof. Holtz said NGOs engaged in furthering the flow of information on issues crucial to global human security and acting as some kind of a North-South communication system should also be based in Bonn. Prof. Holtz is a member of the founding committee of the 'North- South Centre on Development Research' which is expected to be launched next autumn at the Bonn University. It will be flanked by the Ministries of Economic Cooperation and Development and Environment as well as by the Ministry of Research and Technology which will stay put in Bonn.