Dalia Grybauskaite: The Next UN Secretary-General?

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Lithuania President Dalia Grybauskaite addressing the UN General Assembly on Sept. 26, 2013 (UN Photo/Ryan Brown)

Sept. 27, 2013 – It’s still a few years away but already there’s speculation about who will succeed Ban Ki-moon when his second and final term as secretary-general ends in 2016.

Eastern Europe is the only one of the five United Nations regional groups that has never had a secretary-general and there’s a view inside the UN that Eastern Europe’s turn will come at last.

Last year’s General Assembly president, Vuk Jeremic of Serbia, and current UN envoy to Afghanistan, Slovakia’s Jan Kubis, are among the names that have been mooted.

But the UN has also never had a female secretary-general and for an organization that spends a lot of time and resources promoting gender equality, there’s also a lot of talk that it’s past time a woman was at the helm after eight successive male secretaries-general.

Enter Lithuania President Dalia Grybauskaite. A former EU budget commissioner, she was elected as an independent candidate in 2009. Dubbed the Steel Magnolia, she cites Margaret Thatcher and Mahatma Gandhi as her political role models. Lithuania currently holds the presidency of the European Union and is expected to secure a two-year term on the Security Council for 2014-16, during which time the next UN chief will be selected.

In her address to the General Assembly on Thursday, Grybauskaite spoke about how her country, once a recipient of international aid, is now a donor country, and that the 21st century “must be the age of solidarity, equality and sustainable development.” And she began and ended her address speaking about the post-2015 development process, which will be guided by the next secretary-general.

But she also spoke about “those who want to enforce a specific course of development on others, by economic pressure, energy levers or cyber tools, by distorted information, or threats.” No doubt a reference to Russia. And therein lies the major obstacle to her possible selection as the next UN secretary-general: avoiding a Russian veto.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz