Norwegian ex-PM Stoltenberg tipped as next NATO chief

  
Jens Stoltenberg [Arbeiderpartiet]
Jens Stoltenberg [Arbeiderpartiet]

In the margins of the EU-US summit, British Prime Minister David Cameron has given his support to Jens Stoltenberg as next secretary general of the NATO defence alliance, securing the Norwegian’s lead to get the position.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday (26 March) that he would back Stoltenberg for the role of secretary general. “I think Jens Stoltenberg would be an excellent candidate, I’ve worked very closely with him and I think it would be very good to have such candidate who has filled such a high office in his own country,” the British PM told the UK parliament.

Cameron is the last in a series of EU leaders said to endorse the Norwegian’s bid for the position. Earlier, the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten reported that several diplomats “very close to this process” confirmed the backing of the US, Germany and France for Stoltenberg's candidacy.

An official confirmation of who would be the next secretary general of the military alliance is expected at a meeting of foreign ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on 1-2 April. The incumbent secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, from Denmark, steps down at the end of July.

The position of secretary general of the NATO defence alliance traditionally goes to a statesman from a European country. Other European politicians were seen as possible contenders for the job. The Polish minister of foreign affairs, Radosław Sikorski, was deemed a good candidate and observers placed the Italian former foreign minister, Franco Frattini, amongst the top contenders.

José Manuel Barroso, the incumbent president of the European Commission, and the Belgian defence minister, Pieter De Crem, have allegedly campaigned to get the job over the past months.

Obama tells Europe to ‘chip in’ on NATO expenses

On Wednesday, US president Barack Obama met with Barroso and with European Council president, Herman Van Rompuy, as well as visiting the NATO headquarters in Brussels. 

His visit comes at a strained time for European security. The annexation of the Crimea peninsula by Russia has put great pressure on NATO member countries to take action and show strong backing for Ukraine in the conflict.

Obama told reporters in Brussels: “I suggested to heads of state of NATO member countries that […] we do more to ensure that a regular NATO presence amongst some of these states that may feel vulnerable is executed.”

Referring to a constant decrease of Europe’s overall investments in defence, US president Obama said to press in Brussels: “If we have collective defense, it means everyone’s got to chip in.”

Ukraine has a ‘distinctive partnership’ with the military alliance, but is not a full member. Defence ministers of NATO member countries stressed last month that “a sovereign, independent and stable Ukraine is key to Euro-Atlantic security”.

NATO top job appointment coincides with EU reshuffle

The appointment of the next NATO secretary general coincides with a game of political musical chairs in Brussels, as the EU selects a number of top job holders in the wake of the European elections on 22-25 May. Negotiations could carry on throughout the summer.

Apart from a new Commission and European Council president, the EU is also to select a new high representative for foreign and security policy. Sikorski has been tipped for the NATO position in the past, but could end up taking on this position of EU foreign policy chief.

Jens Stoltenberg served as prime minister of Norway from 2005 until he lost the elections in an attempt to get re-elected for a third term in September 2013.

He was prime minister during the domestic terrorist attack by Anders Behring Breivik in 2011, in which 77 people were killed, a national trauma for the Scandinavian country.

Timeline: 
  • 1-2 April: meeting of NATO member countries’ ministers of foreign affairs, in Brussels
  • 31 July 2014: End of mandate of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general of NATO. 
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