Race for Next UN Secretary-General Taking Shape

The six official candidates to date to succeed Ban Ki-moon

The six official candidates to date to succeed Ban Ki-moon

Feb. 22, 2016 – There are now six official candidates to succeed Ban Ki-moon and become the ninth secretary-general of the United Nations.

Four of the six declared candidates hail from the Balkans with the former Yugoslav countries hedging that strong trade links with Russia, as well as EU membership in the case of Croatia and Slovenia, and EU accession status, in the case of Macedonia and Montenegro, could see them bridge the West-Russia divide in the UN and get the support of both.

Besides Croatia’s Vesna Pusic, Macedonia’s Srgian Kerim, Slovenia’s Danilo Turk and Montenegro’s Igor Lusik, the two other candidates are Bulgaria’s Irina Bokova and Moldova’s Natalia Gherman.

Bokova, the current director-general of UNESCO, was nominated earlier this month by the Bulgarian government despite much speculation that her compatriot Kristalina Georgieva was Sofia’s favored candidate – the EU budget commissioner is also favored by the Western P5 countries, Britain, France and the US.

But all is not lost for Georgieva as the candidate process does not rule out a UN member state nominating two candidates nor does it stipulate that a candidate has to be nominated by their country of citizenship.

The sixth and most recent declared candidate is Moldova’s Natalia Gherman. UN Tribune was first to write about Gherman as a potential successor to Ban Ki-moon, noting back in April 2015 that Moldova’s strong ties with Russia, its non-membership of NATO, as well as her own pro-EU outlook, could see her emerge as a compromise candidate.

Gherman is scheduled to speak at New York’s Columbia University next week and it is interesting to note in her bio she lists fluency in English, German, Romanian and Russian – but not French, an unofficial requirement of UN secretaries-general. But there’s little reason for her to worry about this as it’s widely known that Ban Ki-moon was taking intensive French classes after his election, and French-languaue reporters still like to test him on his proficiency.

There are no clear favorites yet to succeed Ban and the list of candidates is sure to increase but what is clear so far is that the next secretary-general will come from Eastern Europe – there is no requirement as such but it is the only region not to have had a secretary-general and there is wide agreement in the general membership, if not the P5, that it is Eastern Europe’s turn – and that the UN may well elect its first female secretary-general.

Update: Feb 29, 2016 – Former UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres has been nominated by the Portuguese government. Guterres is a former prime minister of Portugal and served as UN refugee chief from 2005-15, during the worst refugee crisis in UNHCR’s history. The Portuguese government made the announcement on Monday. He is the first candidate to be nominated by a non-Eastern European member state and his candidacy, while popular, is likely to face stiff resistance from veto-wielding Russia.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Related: Natalia Gherman – Could Moldova’s Foreign Minister be the Next UN Secretary-General?

Natalia Gherman – Could Moldova’s Foreign Minister be the Next UN Secretary-General?

Moldova's Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman addressing the General Assembly, Sept. 2014 (UN Photo)

Moldova’s Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman addressing the UN General Assembly, Sept. 2014 (UN Photo)

April 30, 2015 – The buzz surrounding the election of Ban Ki-moon’s successor continues to gather pace and this week in New York, 32 member states plus the EU spoke at a General Assembly debate on transforming the way the UN appoints its secretary-general.

Twenty-one of the speakers said it was high-time the UN seriously considered appointing its first female secretary-general. Eight men have held the post since the organization’s founding in 1946 and the UN as a whole – the secretariat, member states and the Security Council – has a less than stellar record on promoting gender equality.

There’s also wide agreement inside the United Nations that the next UN chief should come from Eastern Europe, the only UN regional group that has not occupied the position, whereas three secretaries-general have come from the Western group, two each from Asia and Africa, and one from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Among the female candidates mentioned for the post are current UNESCO chief Irina Bokova and fellow Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva, the EU’s budget commissioner, as well as Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaite – who is unlikely to get a pass from veto-wielding Russia.

But there are others.

Of the five female foreign ministers among countries that are members of the Council of Europe, four of them are from Eastern Europe: Croatia’s Vesna Pusic, Georgia’s Maia Pandjikidze, Estonia’s Keit Pentus-Rosimannus and Moldova’s Natalia Gherman.

Pusic has been mentioned as a possible candidate while Pandjikidze and Pentus-Rosimannusis appear to be out of the running as long as Russia holds a veto over the process and, while there are mounting calls for the UN to change the way it elects the secretary-general, at Monday’s debate China, Russia and the US all voiced support for maintaining the status quo.

But Gherman may well fit the bill. Moldova lies at the crossroads of Slavic and Latin Europe. The tiny republic is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States and also has aspirations of joining the European Union, signing an association agreement with Brussels last year.

Moldova’s ties to Russia are long and complicated. There are Russian troops in the breakaway region of Transnistria, ostensibly they are there as peacekeepers. Russia is also Moldova’s second biggest individual trading partner – behind Romania – and a major destination for Moldovan migrant labor. Their remittances are vital for Europe’s poorest country.

Screenshot 2015-04-29 at 4.42.52 PM

Gherman met with Russia’s FM Sergei Lavrov when she was in New York last September. (photo/Moldova MFA)

Russia banned the import of Moldovan wine after it signed the EU association agreement and has threatened to cut off the country’s energy supply. Gherman’s party is decidedly pro-EU and she is at the forefront of pushing for the country’s membership in the bloc but it will likely be years before Chișinău fully meets the accession criteria

Its relations with Moscow are far more important currently and while a pro-EU party rules, support inside the country for joining the EU is lukewarm. More importantly, unlike most of its Eastern Europe neighbors, Moldova is not a member of NATO nor an aspiring member. Its constitution enshrines permanent neutrality.

While Gherman, whose father Mircea Snegur was the first president of Moldova, is far from an ideal candidate from Russia’s point of view, given her strong pro-EU orientation, if she puts her hat into the ring for the secretary-general race, she may well find that Russia is far more sympathetic to a Moldovan candidate than one from a neighboring NATO member state.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz