At its October 2006 retreat and in the framework of broader discussions on the reform of the United Nations, CEB began a reflection on the future challenges facing the multilateral system, as well as the need to improve system-wide coherence. In the course of a wide-ranging discussion, the central importance and potential of CEB as an instrument for improving coherence across the system was underlined. Executive heads agreed that a new opportunity existed to undertake a more ambitious approach to strengthening the relevance and functioning of CEB. On behalf of CEB, the Secretary-General requested the directors-general of ILO and WTO to lead a review of the functioning of CEB and to report back the preliminary recommendations for consideration at the CEB meeting in April 2007.

An extensive consultative process involving all executive heads was undertaken by the directors-general of ILO and WTO, including comprehensive written inputs from executive heads. The overall exercise was carried out by executive heads themselves, marking a difference with previous reviews of CEB. The central conclusion of the exercise was that if CEB was to become a stronger and more effective instrument for inter-agency coordination it would require the investment of more time and the direct involvement of executive heads supported by an integrated CEB structure incorporating policy, management and operational issues. The review was an important step forward in the evolution of CEB in the ownership and management of system-wide coordination under the leadership of the Secretary-General.

Consultations undertaken in the course of the review resulted in a common view that a major overhaul of CEB was not necessary, but that the review should envisage an incremental process of tightening the work of CEB and its machinery over the next two to three years on the basis of a pragmatic approach. CEB members acknowledged the critical role of CEB as a unique body of the multilateral system bringing together under the aegis and leadership of the Secretary-General, the executive heads of the specialized agencies, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, WTO and relevant United Nations entities, funds and programmes. As the apex inter-agency mechanism, CEB should provide inter-secretariat policy guidance by the chief executive officers of the secretariats of the organizations of the system. In that regard, individual mandates, respective strengths, capacities and areas of action, as well as different governance structures and constituencies of member organizations, needed to be recognized and respected.

A number of key issues were identified as central to the functioning of CEB. The first was the harmonization of business practices, systems and procedures across the system which was seen as being of primary importance. A second broad area identified was that of global policy issues. CEB would define and select a limited number of cross-cutting policy issues of concern to the whole system, to which it could make a specific contribution over the next two to three years. There was strong support for action to be taken immediately on climate change, fair and equitable globalization, gender equality and support to African development.

With respect to the third area of country operations, it was noted that with reform efforts for increased system-wide coherence and the focus on country-level results, operational activities should become an integral part of the major responsibilities of CEB, connecting with that policy, programme and management functions and seeking mutual support and reinforcement across them. While CEB should develop an overall monitoring capacity, it would not involve itself in specific country activities. A fundamental principle underlying that approach would be to bring the normative work of the United Nations and its country work closer together with the ownership of all relevant organizations. That was seen as critical given the new responsibilities expected of the resident coordinator system as lead representative of the United Nations system at the country level. In that regard, CEB endorsed the proposal for the integration of the United Nations Development Group within the CEB framework.

It was agreed that an integrated high-level committee structure would underpin the role of CEB as the pinnacle of inter-agency coordination and bring together vertical and horizontal coordination at the global, regional and country levels across the wide spectrum of mandates and expertise of CEB members.

A number of steps in the CEB review process were identified for the next stage of the review, including the mapping of all inter-agency coordination mechanisms, and further analysis of coherence and the different dimensions of policy coherence. CEB would also look at the financing of CEB, including the level of funding required for the appropriate functioning of CEB and its machinery. Finally, the review would also examine ways to strengthen Secretariat arrangements to appropriately service and provide substantive and logistical support to CEB, its clusters and committees and their interlinkages; improve reporting and transparency to intergovernmental bodies; and monitor the implementation of decisions.

CEB had endorsed the general principles contained in the proposal for its review and outlined specific measures to continue the review process. The High-level Committee on Management was required to proceed with the finalization of a plan of action for harmonization and reform of business practices and to develop proposals on dealing with additional functions proposed for it in managing country-level operations and monitoring resource flows to the system. The High Level Committee on Programmes was tasked to proceed with its work on global policy issues and make proposals for the consideration of CEB on the sequencing of issues for future CEB sessions. The High Level Committee on Programmes would also propose a methodology for the analysis of mandates and duplication and the study of different dimensions of policy coherence. With regard to the work of the three committees and the integration of the United Nations Development Group into CEB, the chairs of the three committees were asked to develop a set of proposed arrangements for the further consideration of CEB.

The review was seen as the first step in developing a far-sighted strategic vision for CEB based on a pragmatic approach with the intention of seeking concrete improvements within a two to three year period. Executive heads, in proceeding with the review, showed their commitment to assume fully their responsibilities in the ownership and management of CEB. The review took a holistic approach to the task of CEB which encompassed the main global policy issues faced by the multilateral system, its common managerial challenges, and the provision of guidance and oversight for country operations.