We know the world today is turbulent, volatile and violent. It is also interconnected and interdependent. That’s why who gets to be the next Secretary-General of the United Nations matters to everyone. And that’s why Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, should get the world’s top job.
True, Merkel hasn’t yet thrown her hat in the ring. She’s too busy running not only Europe’s largest economy and most populous country but also the 28-member European Union.
But while the list of current candidates for the UN job is certainly impressive and the competition appears to be a real one, with candidates openly campaigning for the big prize, the tough times ahead demand a person of Merkel’s calibre, experience and leadership skills.
The German Chancellor has a lot on her hands. Coping with the mass influx of refugees and migrants arriving in Germany — over one million now and still increasing — is a pressing priority.
There’s also the continuing eurozone crisis which has Greece sniping at its EU partners and especially at Berlin. There is a growing East-West divide in Europe as many eastern and central European countries throw out any lingering support for values such as solidarity, tolerance and compassion in favour of rabid nationalism.
And then of course there’s a fear that Europe will start unravelling not just because of the refugee crisis but also because Britain may vote to leave the EU, triggering a cascade of other nations seeking a way out.
She may not be as popular as she was in Germany because of her controversial welcome policy on refugees, and certainly neither the Greeks nor the Eastern Europeans love her. But, inside today’s messy and chaotic Europe of fear and fences, Merkel stands heads and shoulders above any other EU leader.
As a big hitter who has worked strenuously to keep Europe on track in the face of multiple crises, Merkel has the clout and authority the UN needs to keep difficult members on the straight and narrow.
As her stand on refugees has shown she is compassionate and caring — but also tough when she needs to be. She stands out as a true leader in a world short of inspirational men and women with vision and courage.
That’s not to say that many of the others in the UN race are not good. Some certainly are.
Among the eight declared candidates is the former president of Slovenia and five rival candidates from East European nations. Under a principle of regional rotation, it is assumed to be the turn of an East European to occupy the highest post at the UN. Many also insist it’s time the UN was led by a woman.
The favourite among them is the Bulgarian Irina Bokova, the Bulgarian head of the UN’s cultural agency, Unesco. However, newspaper reports say that Ms Bokova has irritated the Americans by supervising the process in which Palestine joined Unesco and because of her alleged close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Helen Clark, the former prime minister of New Zealand, who is considered the most powerful woman at the UN as head of the UNDP, has entered the already crowded stage. She is the fourth woman in the field and the only non-European to enter the race so far.
Antonio Guterres, the former prime minister of Portugal who has also served as UN high commissioner for refugees, is also running for the job.
The field is expected to grow. There is speculation that Kristalina Georgieva, a Bulgarian who is a vice president of the European Commission, might yet be persuaded to run.
In a sign of changing times, the candidates are out in the public, campaigning for the job, being grilled by members, responding to questions and making comments on the state of the world.
What a change from the past. For the 70 years of United Nations, all eight secretaries general were selected behind closed doors. Those doing the selection were the five permanent members of the Security Council: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China.
The countries would select a man to represent the United Nations and then the General Assembly, which is made up of all UN member states, would endorse their choice.
This time it’s relatively open and transparent. To support their applications, the candidates have also been asked to post their curricula vitae online and to compose a 2,000-word vision statement articulating how they would run an organisation which is composed of 30 separate agencies, funds and programmes and 40,000 staff. The UN is composed of a whopping 193 member states.
The Security Council is expected to begin its deliberations in July. The candidate must be backed by each of the five permanent members. The Security Council’s selection is then passed along to the General Assembly for a final vote.
So where does Merkel fit in. So far, she says she’s not interested. But Germans have been saying for some time that Merkel does not want to complete her full term as chancellor and is planning to resign before elections due in 2017. If she does so, she will become the first chancellor to leave of her own accord since 1949.
Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine wrote some time ago that Merkel could opt to run for either the job of UN Secretary-General or President of the European Council. Both jobs become available in 2017.
There’s no doubt that the appointment of a strong political figure like the German Chancellor will give some much-needed credibility and authority to the UN job. The years ahead will be difficult and challenging on many fronts. Merkel has also ready proven herself and shown that when the going gets tough, she gets going.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels
Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2016