The United Nations today enjoys tremendous authority, thanks to the fulfilment of the dreams of its founding fathers. But significant administrative and institutional decisions will always provide a jolt back to reality. This jolt is coming in the next twelve months, as the decision is made about the election of a new Secretary General who will guide and lead the organisation in the coming years in the midst of a changing strategic, political and economic environment. It is no surprise that the selection criteria are moving targets. They have always moved, throughout the 70-year-long history of the UN. No country or politician can specify the exact method of the selection procedure. But this time, there is an increasingly strong demand from all quarters that it should be transparent and inclusive. That should guarantee that the final decision on the candidate will reflect not only the ideas of the Permanent Members of the Security Council, essential of course, but also of those numerous countries that believe that the UN should be capable of meeting the demands imposed on it by different crisis situations of varying complexity and size.
The nomination of a particular person can signal a new (or an old) direction for the organisation. They can also send positive (or negative!) messages to others on their political intentions and expectations vis-à-vis the future role to be played and tasks to be performed by the organisation. A qualified and experienced candidate capable of taking autonomous professional and political decisions, when elected, would best serve the interests of the organisation and meet the values and standards the organisation stands for. But it not easy to find such a candidate, or to choose them once found.
The UN's geographical groups will play an important role in the decision. While there is in practice a principle of rotation between the groups, there is no written procedure as to which group can offer a UNSG candidate and for what terms, and no established sequence of nomination either. A group whose members can quickly establish consensus around a viable candidate will have a powerful advantage. So far the Western European and Others Group (WEOG, which includes also Canada, the USA, Israel, Australia) has provided four UNSGs (for 7 terms), the Asian Group 2 UNSGs (4 terms), the African group has had two UNSGs (for 3 terms), and the Latin-American Group has given 1 UNSG (for 2 terms).
The Eastern European Group has provided no UNSG so far, in the 70 year long history of the UN!
One possible reason for this could be the former division of Europe, during the cold war. Another reason could also be that this group did not have any ambition and aspiration to pursue such a project, and there was no optimal candidate, no real good personalities, on the horizon. One also has to say that the Eastern European Group never previously complained about the lack of her candidate in the position. But this time there seems to be an evolving understanding that the Eastern European Group should now present a candidate for the job, and a joint letter from the group as a whole stating that it is their turn was published last November.
There are 23 states among the Central European geographical group. It is a very colourful entity! They include the Russian Federation, and also EU/NATO member states. Same region, different historical sensitivities and strategic alternatives. But still, a good candidate needs unity at the end of the day. Shallow unity behind empty phrases is an acceptable strategy in good times — but a recipe for disaster when times are tough. Therefore, the Eastern-European Group will need to make a concerted effort to choose its own candidate and get him or her accepted by the Security Council and the General Assembly.
Some of the countries of the Eastern European Group, on a national basis and informally, have already presented the names of their own possible national candidates for the post. They did it without any previous inter-state coordination among the member states of the group and without knowing the likely reactions to their candidates. The name of Danilo Türk, a former President of Slovenia, is frequently mentioned in this context, as well as two Slovaks: Ján Kubiš, a former diplomat who is now the Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Mission in Iraq, and Miroslav Lajčák, currently Foreign Minister of Slovakia.
These informal announcements are the first and unavoidable phase of informal consultations. These countries can check if there is any major objection or a tacit support vis-à-vis their candidates. Needless to say that these informal announcements can confirm the readiness and intentions of the countries of the region individually to come up with a viable candidate, but the numerous competing candidates are not consistent with the group's collective interest of securing the victory of a joint candidate.
The press and media have started already contemplating the possible Eastern European nominees. One very important condition (though not the only one) of the nomination of a viable candidate is the support (or at least the consent) of Russia. A candidate who is vulnerable to a Russian veto is not even worth being considered. However, one has to add to this argument, that the successful candidate must be acceptable to all five permanent members of the Security Council, which is very internally divided on issues like the Ukrainian-Russian crisis. The candidate should have high ranking diplomatic/political experience and the support of his/her government, and the nomination also depends on the current position he/she holds right now.
In an organisation where cultural diversity and gender balance have a meaning and long standing importance, a female candidate speaking French and Russian (in addition to English, the modern lingua franca) will have a strong advantage, and will satisfy the informal criteria of some UNSC members.
Of the many excellent candidates whose names have already been floating around, the name of Irina Bokova, former Bulgarian minister of foreign affairs, now in her second term as the Director-General of UNESCO emerges. She has gained a good reputation for her consensual style of leadership and managerial abilities, and has already been endorsed by the Bulgarian government. She is also said to be acceptable to Russia and the United States (educated in Moscow and Washington), and not negligibly speaks fluent French – she was awarded the Légion d'Honneur by President Francois Hollande in July.
A short list to be presented for final decision without her name would not be complete. The Eastern European Group could and should line up behind her (sources say that she enjoys the support of Poland already). The sooner the EEG comes to an agreement on the candidate the better are the chances that other geographical groups do not start contemplating their own candidates. Only a good and viable EEG candidate can slow down or stop feeding the hope and expectation of other groups on the nomination of their own candidates.
Irina Bokova, with her professional and political experiences, network and abilities is best placed to secure the position of UN Secretary-General for our region, which has been passed over for 70 years.
Károly Banai; freehungary.hu; July 31. 2015.