Eastern Europe braces for the top UN job

The UN's New York headquarters. [Wikimedia]

Today (12 April) in New York the hearings of the eight candidates for the position of the next UN Secretary-General will begin. Seven of them are from Europe, and six from the Eastern part of the continent, a region which has never produced a UN Secretary-General thus far.

Officially the race to replace Ban Ki-moon, whose second term expires on 31 December, begins with “informal dialogues” with the eight candidates which their respective governments have put forward.

More transparency

This is the first time that the United Nations is undertaking the effort to make the election of the Secretary-General more transparent. Representatives of the member states will be allowed to pose questions to the candidates on a first come – first served basis. If time remains at the end of the two-hour period, the candidate will field questions from civil society.

The candidates will also have the chance to speak to the media at a stakeout set up outside the Assembly Hall.

Three screenings per day will take place from today to Thursday, lasting two hours each. The first to be grilled is Montenegro’s Igor Lukšić, who currently serves a foreign minister of his country. He has briefly replaced Milo Djukanović as Prime Minister in 2010, becoming the youngest Prime Minister in the world to date (he was born in 1976). Djukanović is officially a social democrat, but his political views have been described as liberal. Lukšić has said his role models are Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill.

The second to appear in front of the panel is Bulgaria’s Irina Bokova, who currently leads the United Nations largest agency UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Considered by many as the front-runner, her political background is on the Bulgarian centre-left. Bokova is the first woman to lead UNESCO. She studied in the former Soviet Union, and in the US, and speaks French, English, Spanish and Russian fluently.

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The third candidate to appear today is Portugal’s António Guterres, a former Portuguese politician who was Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002. Guterres served as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 2005 to 2015, leading one of the world’s largest humanitarian organizations with more than 9,000 staff working in 123 countries, providing protection and assistance to over 46 million refugees, returnees, internally displaced people and stateless persons. He has served as President of the Socialist International.

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Tomorrow, the first to appear will be Slovenia’s Danilo Türk, a diplomat, professor of international law, human rights expert, and political figure who served as the President of Slovenia from 2007 to 2012. Türk was the first Slovene ambassador to the United Nations, from 1992 to 2000, and was the UN Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs from 2000 to 2005. He is a visiting professor of international law at Columbia University in New York City, and the founder of the Danilo Türk Foundation, devoted mostly to the rehabilitation of child victims of armed conflict.

The second to be screened tomorrow is Croatia’s Vesna Pusić, a sociologist and politician who serves as Deputy Speaker of the Croatian Parliament since 3 February 2016. She had previously served as a First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs in the centre-left Cabinet of Zoran Milanović. Vesna Pusić is very popular in the Croatian LGBT community. In 2011, Zagreb Pride attenders awarded her with the “gay friendly person of the decade”.

The third candidate appearing tomorrow is Moldova’s Natalia Gherman, also known as Natalia-Snegur-Gherman, as she is the daughter of Mircea Snegur, the first President of Moldova. Gherman served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration and Deputy Prime Minister of Moldova from May 2013 to January 2016. Before that, she worked as a diplomat, having held the posts of Ambassador to Austria and Sweden, and Permanent Representative to the OSCE. She is affiliated to the Liberla Democratic Party of Moldova (centre-right).

Georgieva won’t run for UN Secretary General

The Bulgarian government announced today (8 February) that Commission Vice President Kristalina Georgieva will continue with her duties – putting an end to expectations that she would run for UN Secretary General to replace Ban Ki-moon, whose second term expires on 31 December 2016.

On 14 April, the first to appear before the panel is New Zealand’s Helen Clark, the only non-European in the race to date. She has served as Prime Minister of New Zealand three consecutive terms from 1999 to 2008 and was the first woman elected at a general election as the Prime Minister of her country. A Labour politician, she became engaged in politics since she was a teenager. Clark sent troops to the Afghanistan War, but did not contribute combat troops to the Iraq War.

The last to appear is Macedonia’s Srgjan Kerim, a diplomat, economist, former Foreign Minister and President of the 62nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly (2007-2008). Kerim has worked for the German WAZ group and has served as ambassador of Macedonia to Germany and as a Special Envoy of Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe (1999-2000). Between 2008 and 2009 he was Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General on Climate Change. He is from the VMRO-DPMNE party (centre-right).

The UN Charter, signed in 1945 as the foundation of the arganization, says relatively little about how a Secretary-General is to be selected, aside from Article 97, which notes that the candidate “shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.”

The ideal candidate would have the “contact with the global public opinion and authority to call to the major and minor powers, particularly in the Security Council, to act timely,” the President of the General Assembly Morgens Lykketoft (Denmark) said.

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The five members of the Security Council (USA, Russia, China, UK and France) hold veto power in the election process.

Lykketoft said he feels strongly that the international community is ready to accept is a female Secretary-General.

“We have to keep clear, I think, that we have to find the best person. But many of us don’t see any reason why the best person should not be a woman for the first time,” he said. “And that’s an argument in itself.”

In addition to gender, there is an additional consideration that could potentially give some an advantage, Lykketoft explains. Eastern Europe is the only region thus far without a previous Secretary-General.

EU is not in one group

According to UN traditions, the world is divided in regional groups. The Eastern European Group comprises Russia, the countries of the former Soviet Union, and of the Soviet bloc, including all new EU members from Central and Eastern Europe and all the EU candidate countries except Turkey.

Portugal and New Zealand are part of the “Western European and Others” group, which also includes the USA and Canada.

For the same historic reasons, Greece and Turkey are members of the Western European group. Strangely, Cyprus is part of the Asian group.

The Russian representative to the UN, Vitaly Churkin. was recently quoted as saying that his country would like the next UN Secretary-General to be from its regional group.

The next round of dialogues with the candidates will be in June. The Security Council will begin deliberations in July. So far the Security Council has always presented one candidate to the member states, who have always approved the choice.

But Lykketoft admits the possibility exists that the Security Council may come up with two names to be put to the vote of the 193 member states. He has also is reported to have said  that the possibility that the next Secretary-General could have a 7-year term, instead of five, years, is also being discussed.

Under the UN Charter, the Secretary-General is appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council. Ban Ki-moon predecessors as Secretary-General were: Kofi Annan (Ghana) who held office from January 1997 to December 2006; Boutros Boutros-Ghali (Egypt), who held office from January 1992 to December 1996; Javier Pèrez de Cuèllar (Peru), who served from January 1982 to December 1991; Kurt Waldheim (Austria), who held office from January 1972 to December 1981; U Thant (Burma, now Myanmar), who served from November 1961, when he was appointed acting Secretary-General (he was formally appointed Secretary-General in November 1962) to December 1971; Dag Hammarskjöld (Sweden), who served from April 1953 until his death in a plane crash in Africa in September 1961; and Trygve Lie (Norway), who held office from February 1946 to his resignation in November 1952.

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