Apart from the occasional suggestion of Helen Clark or Antonio Guterres, almost everyone agrees that the 2016 race for Secretary General should be reserved for an East European. The region is the only one of five in the UN system which has never held the top post, mostly due to Soviet and later Russian resistance to the idea.
Already, a number of candidates from the region are testing the waters, according to one East European mission official, “under the carpet.” Current UNESCO chief Irina Bokova of Bulgaria and former president of Slovenia Danilo Türk have been endorsed by the cabinet or a group of parliamentarians in their home country. No one has been officially nominated, but such steps will likely take place this summer in the run-up to the General Assembly’s 70th session.
In the meantime, the Eastern European Group (EEG) has formally reminded other members it has thus far been shut out of the post and wants it in 2016. The memo below was sent around to all permanent missions at the end of November. (A transcription follows beneath the PDF.)
According to an official at the Slovene mission (whose job will be much busier if Türk formally runs), the memo was agreed to unanimously by the representatives of the Group’s members, including Russia’s Vitaly Churkin. The memo does not make any demands or ask for a response, rather only serving as a reminder to everyone that the post has never been held by an Eastern European. It just reiterates a “very hollow fact,” said the official, with some amusement.
The official emphasized that the tradition of regional rotation has no actual basis in the UN Charter or the governing rules, but… you know. The memo references General Assembly resolutions 51/241, which calls for “due regard” to the tradition.
59. In the course of the identification and appointment of the best candidate for the post of Secretary-General, due regard shall continue to be given to regional rotation and shall also be given to gender equality.
The widely held view is that the selection will come down to the United States and Russia. There is still considerable uncertainty, among officials speaking off-the-record and from non-government organizations, whether Eastern Europe will be allowed to put forward the only nominees. And, yes, the main obstacle will be Russia.
Nonetheless, no substantive reforms are expected in 2016 to the regional rotation scheme or the overall selection process, which the Slovene official described as “unsustainable.”
In my capacity as the Chair of the Group of Eastern European States (EEG) for November 2014, I have the honour to draw your attention to the following:
Given the fact that at the end of 2016 the second term in office of the current and highly respected Secretary-General of the United Nations, H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon expires, the members of the Group of Eastern European States wish to reiterate their interest, first expressed in 2004, in holding the position of the next Secretary-General by a representative from the said regional group.
The Secretary-General of the UN has never come from the Eastern European states and in fact EEG is the only regional group at the UN that has been thus far denied such an opportunity. The Group of Eastern European States is convinced that the time has finally come for a national coming from our region to be entrusted with the highest position of the UN Secretariat.
In this regard, the EEG would like to recall the GA Resolution 51/241, which, inter alia, refers to the importance of the regional rotation In the course of the identification and appointment of the best candidate for the post of Secretary-General of the United Nations. The principle of rotation among the five regional groups is applied in fulfilling all key positions within the UN system, including the posts of the President of the General Assembly, the President of ECOSOC and all non-permanent seats on the Security Council. As stipulated in GA Resolution 51/241, this principle should also be respected in the election process for the post of the Secretary-General of the UN.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration,
Ambassador, Permanent Representative