Georgieva to run for UN Secretary-General

Kristalina Georgieva has met with UN Deputy Secretary-General Ian Eliasson three times this year. [European Commission]

EXCLUSIVE/ Commission Vice-President Kristalina Georgieva plans to run for the job of UN Secretary-General, to replace Ban Ki-moon, whose second term expires on 31 December 2016.

Rumours that Georgieva, the Bulgarian Commission member, was interested in the UN job, have been circulating for a while.

Margaritis Schinas, spokesperson for Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, set the record straight. Asked by EURACTIV yesterday (2 November) to comment if Georgieva has informed Juncker of her intention to campaign for UN Secretary General, and if the two have discussed the issue, Schinas said:

“The President and Ms Georgieva discussed the possibility that this issue may arise, but for the moment, Vice-President Georgieva is focused on her current job. The President has great admiration for the international experience, negotiation skills and tremendous work capacity of Ms Georgieva, who is giving the President invaluable support in managing the European Commission in challenging times.”

Georgieva is likely to face intense, international competition for the job, and she knows that her compatriot, Irina Bokova, who currently leads the United Nations largest agency UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, is the Buglaria’s official candidate. And she of course knows that the Bulgarian government cannot nominate both.

>> Read: Bulgaria puts forward Bokova’s candidacy for UN Secretary-General

It is the turn of Eastern Europe to lead the world organisation. A strong candidate from this part of the world, moreover a woman, would be well-placed to take the post.

It appears that Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, aware of Georgieva’s goal, doesn’t want to pick a candidate himself, and expects the big powers to decide for him.

Asked on national television on 29 October if he would give his full support to Bokova to win the UN job, Borissov remained vague, instead of mentioning her name, replying “she or another”.

“For UNESCO, she [Bokova] won. Now for the UN, there is a need that the big countries find consensus, that they find a consensual person. It doesn’t depend on us. […] So if she or another can pass this coordination, this would be a big joy for Bulgaria.”

Borissov’s words can be interpreted that he wants to hear from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely the US, Russia, France, UK and China, and decide whom to nominate accordingly. The Commission is not a player, according to UN culture.

But in fact, the first stage of the process requires UN member states nominate the candidates for UN Secretary-General (see background), and Borissov would need to make a formal choice in spring.

Is she campaigning?

EURACTIV was prompted to ask if Georgieva was a candidate after diplomats commented that the Commission Vice-President was already in campaign mode. The reference mentioned her public calendar of activities, according to which about half of her meetings are with UN officials.

“If this is not campaigning…” said a Western diplomat, who asked not to be named, forwarding an invitation for a public conference on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the UN in Washington tomorrow (4 November), in which Georgieva is listed as a speaker.

Georgieva’s itinerary for 2015 include several meetings with UN Deputy Secretary General Ian Eliasson, several others with heads of UN agencies, and one with Ban Ki-moon himself.

Last May, Georgieva was appointed by Ban Ki-moon as member of the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Finance. But a diplomat said this was not an excuse for dedicating so much time to the UN, and that the title gave her an excuse to campaign at a difficult time, when she otherwise should have concentrated on her job as Budget & Human Resources Commissioner.

The Commissioners’ code of conduct obliges the members of the EU executive to inform the Commission President of their intention to participate in an election campaign. If they intend to stand for election, they must withdraw from work in the Commission for the entire period of active implication, and at least for the duration of the campaign.

Journalists who attended the UN General Assembly last September saw Georgieva bracing for media attention in the company of pop star Shakira, and football star Hristo Stoichkov.

Diplomats told EURACTIV that during her term as Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, Georgieva spent a lot of EU money on UNICEF, which helped her build a strong relationship with its head, Anthony Lake. The staff of then-Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, Štefan Füle, were reported to be unhappy, with one of them contending that the Bulgarian Commissioner conducted her own public relations campaign by distributing money from the budget of DG Neighbourhood.

EURACTIV invited Georgieva to comment on the opinions that she spends too much of her time on UN affairs. The only comment received was that for the moment, Georgieva is focused on her current job. 

Wrong tactics?

Georgieva and Bokova may be both strong candidates, but it looks like Bulgaria is ruining its chances to get the UN job.  Reversing last year’s decision to nominate Bokova, a candidate who already has very wide support, would hardly be a clever move. It could well see Bulgaria being the real loser. National infighting is seldom a vote winner.

Bokova is seen by many insiders as the natural candidate for the UN position. She has been twice able to gather wide support for her election, and reelection, at UNESCO’s helm. Her leadership of the UN’s largest agency at a particularly difficult time, when the United States stopped paying its dues, won her a lot of admiration. Bokova came through that crisis without antagonising the US. She remains on excellent terms with US State Secretary John Kerry. He visited her at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris two weeks ago, to lobby for the US to be reelected to UNESCO’s board, and undertook to work with Congress to restore funding.

Older EU hands recall the key role Bokova played in leading Bulgaria towards NATO, and in the direction of EU membership.

Dick Roche, a former Irish Minister for European Affairs, recently said Bokova “ticks all the boxes” for the UN top job, because she is the candidate who can attract the widest support and transcend powerful divisions. This is not the case for Georgieva, he argued.

Roche further said Georgieva could well face a Russian veto, because she represents the Commission which imposed EU sanctions, not a strong “selling point” with the Kremlin. Another handicap for Georgieva is her very limited diplomatic experience. Much of her career has been technocratic, managing Western finance.

Last year, Georgieva wanted to get the job of EU foreign affairs chief, and was able to mobilise a Brussels lobby to push for her candidacy. However, EU heads of state and government appointed Federica Mogherini without much hesitation.

Other candidates for UN Secretary-General from the region of Eastern Europe include Vesna Pusi? who serves as a First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia, Danilo Türk, former President of Slovenia, as well as the Slovakian Foreign Minister, Miroslav Laj?ák. It is also very likely that candidates from other regions will also join the race.

The choice of UNSG is governed by Article 97 of the UN Charter in just seventeen words: "The Secretary-General shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council."

To be recommended, a prospective Secretary-General must receive the votes of 9 members of the Council and no vetoes. Thus the Charter provides for two distinct stages: The Security Council, a principal organ of the UN, is responsible for the first, the selection of the proposed SG. The General Assembly has the second, the power of appointment. In 1946 the Assembly asked the Council to recommend a single person, and to handle the matter privately. So it has been since.

On 11 September 2015, the five permanent members of the 15-member United Nations Security Council, under pressure from the broader membership of the 193-member Organization, accepted an intrusive role for the General Assembly, in which all members are represented, in the selection of the Secretary-General, heretofore handled in secrecy by the Security Council. Candidates for SG will be invited world-wide, and the full membership will be able to examine those candidates and their CVs in real time. There is the prospect of public grilling of aspirants.

It is expected that in January 2016 the President of the General Assembly of the UN and the President of the Security Council for the respective month would send letters to all 193 member countries, announcing the opening of the procedure. This would open the process of formal nominations. It is expected that by September 2016 the Security Council would make its decision for the next UN Secretary General.

The previous Secretary-Generals having been Ghana's Kofi Annan (1997-2006), Egypt's Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1992-1996), Peru's Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (1982-1991), Austria's Kurt Waldheim (1972-1981), Myanmar's U Thant (1961-1971), Sweden's Dag Hammarskjöld (1953-1961) and Norway's Trygve Lie (1946-1952).

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