Europeans start race for NATO leadership

Source: EUobserver (EUOBSERVER) i, published on Wednesday, March 4 2009, 17:41.

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – After waiting for the Obama administration to take office, European states have started floating names for the next NATO secretary general to replace Jaap de Hoop Scheffer i, whose mandate ends on 31 July.

Although there is less than a month to go until the 60th anniversary NATO summit in Strasbourg/Kehl, member states are still in the early stage regarding the nomination of the next NATO chief, Herman Schaper i, the Dutch ambassador to the alliance, told EUobserver.

"We waited for the Obama administration and only started two to three weeks ago to invite countries to present their candidate. At this moment there is no official candidate," Mr Schaper explained.

Asked about the chances for an Eastern European secretary general, Mr Schaper said that there were already two names floated from Poland and Bulgaria – foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski and former top diplomat Solomon Passy, respectively.

"Nobody says that because they are from a new member state they should wait. The criteria for the job is to be experienced and a figure who can bring countries together, not someone who picks fights," Mr Schaper added, alluding to the provocative statements in the past of the Polish foreign minister, especially in regards to Russia.

An agent provocateur would pose a problem not only to Russia-friendly Western European countries such as Germany and France, but also to the new Obama administration's strive to avoid a Cold War-style confrontation with the Kremlin.

According to Gazeta Wyborcza, Mr Sikorski is about to submit his candidature for the secretary general job. Confidential instructions about "probing the intentions" as to the election of a new NATO secretary general were received by Polish ambassadors in the 27 NATO member states, the Polish newspaper reports.

Madame NATO?

The Dutch ambassador hinted at the existence of another new proposal, nicknamed "madame NATO" - French interior minister Michele Alliot Marie, who in the past held the position of defence minister.

"Does he or she speak French – that's important, as we have two languages at NATO. And most of all, whether you're seen by member states as a person they can trust and work with," Mr Schaper said.

But with France about to rejoin NATO's military command and to get two command-level posts, it is unlikely that Paris will also get the top job of the alliance.

The potential candidate broadly seen as having no problems is Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen i. He is the most high-ranking and would easily get the support from both sides of the Atlantic.

The only downside is his image problem in the Arab world, due to the Mohammed-cartoons scandal in 2006. This could develop into a serious handicap, for instance in NATO operations in Afghanistan.

Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store is also in the running, after having recently given an "outstanding briefing" on the Nordic security dimension to NATO ambassadors, alliance sources told this website.

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