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