Norwegian Member of Parliament, Elisabeth Alsaker, outside the UN headquarters in New York. 
Photo: Norway's UN Mission/Emma Kwesiga Lydersen.Norwegian Member of Parliament, Elisabeth Alsaker, outside the UN headquarters in New York. Photo: Norway's UN Mission/Emma Kwesiga Lydersen

An MP's look inside the UN

1/6/2010 // Every fall the Norwegian Parliament, Stortinget, sends two groups of observers to the United Nations General Assembly. In 2009 Elisabeth Aspaker, from the political party Høyre, was one of the Norwegian members of parliament that spent time the UN. Here she reflects on those four hectic weeks she spent in New York.

“Among the great cities of the world, New York must be the one of the greatest. As host to the United Nations headquarters, close to two hundred nations make their mark on the city. New York would not be the same without the UN.

As a Norwegian UN delegate I have had the pleasure of observing from the inside how politicians, experts and diplomats from all corners of the world meet and hold tough negotiations at the UN. All share an ambition to influence the UN agenda. Disarmament, human rights, protection of civilians in armed conflict, the Middle East, Afghanistan and Sudan, budget negotiations at the UN are some of the topics we’ve touched on here. A very fragmented agenda, but I believe the list is an apt illustration of what the UN does. And that’s without even mentioning the UN Millennium Goals which aim to secure help for the world’s poor; such as enabling as many children as possible to grow up and contribute to peace and stability in countries and regions where war and conflict affect the civilian population and threatens the very existence of whole communities.

While the global financial crisis has drifted to the periphery in Norway, we see that it takes centre stage at the UN. There are more crises and challenges in the world today and the need for aid is greater than ever. As always, it’s the poorest nations that are the worst affected. Although the US and Obama have signalled that it will settle its UN debts, the UN member states have, almost without fail, signalled that their contributions will be greatly reduced as a consequence of the financial crisis. When aid is often given as  a portion of GDP and this in many countries is reduced as a result of the crisis, it affects the UN’s finances directly and its ability to execute work such peacekeeping operations or securing clean water, education and healthcare for more of the world’s population. There is a great risk that this will cause major setbacks in terms of achieving the UN Millennium Goals.

Norway is a small nation, but it is a giant when it comes to monetary contributions to the UN. Norway is the third biggest contributor, after the United States and the United Kingdom, to many UN organisations, including UNICEF – which runs a worldwide effort in combating child mortality and securing education for all children. This position gives us a great responsibility in making sure that the UN’s work in central areas carries on unabatedly. It also gives us the responsibility to make sure that the UN system is as effective as possible and that the aid reaches those in greatest need. That’s why UN reform is so important, especially in a time where crises in poor parts of the world are mounting and many people experience conflict and suffering on a massive scale.

My meeting with the UN system has been a meeting with passionate workers who feel that their efforts can make a difference. Thank you to the Norwegian UN delegation and Consulate-General for an exciting time and brilliant programme  in the time that I’ve been allowed to experience the UN from the inside.”


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