15 OCTOBER 2015


An announcement by the new Danish government nominating its outgoing Prime Minister to the post of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees sparked curious -- some irritated -- questions on whether politicians in Copenhagen were entitled to take over all three U.N. Under-Secretary General posts in Geneva. Already, Danes hold Director-General posts of the European Office and Executive Secretary of Economic and Social Commission for Europe.

More to the point, is the loaded question: For what reason was Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon amenable to precipitating a glaring imbalance in the usual practice of equitable geographical distribution, even within regional representation? A follow-up, even more interesting prospect raised is: if a Secretary-General from Asia, during his last year of tenure, gets mixed up in European politics, shouldn't European politicians start thinking of presenting a prominent formidable candidate, like German Chancellor Ms. Angela Merkel, to take over as the next Secretary-General?

It is, of course, up to diplomats directly concerned and the Secretary-General to sort out such complications. But, let's mention certain facts:

  1. When the post of Director-General in Geneva was vacated by the highly-regarded Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, former Kazakhstan Foreign Minister, to chair his country's Parliament in 2013, Michael Moller of Denmark, who had earlier worked as Special Assistant to a Director-General (at P-5 level), was placed as "Acting." Between assignments, Mr. Moller -- a diligent, though somewhat confused staffer, had worked with Secretary-General Kofi Annan who promoted him from P-5 to D-2 in a couple of years during his second term, then upon retirement, charged him with running his Geneva venture, which eventually -- according to varied reports -- went bankrupt; generous contributions for the "greening of Africa" were depleted into different shades of grey. Indications that Mr. Ban's Chef de Cabinet, Ms. Susana Malcorra, was preparing to take over in November -- and arrangements for a dynamic female replacement from Singapore -- were initially delayed, then discarded on 30 June 2015 when the "Acting" Dane was officially confirmed.
  2. Meanwhile, in July 2014, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the appointment of Christian Friis Bach of Denmark as Executive Secretary of U.N. Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), who was heading "the Parliamentarian Group" of the Danish Social / Liberal Party. The appointment did not raise serious questions at the time: Denmark is a solid member of the European Committee, the nominee had a distinguished career, while the other Dane at the Palais des Nations was viewed as an interim lightweight.
  3. Back to Bach, the European Economic and Social Commission was inevitably involved in deliberations about refugees from areas of conflict as their traffic number grew to over 60 million
  4. In June 2015, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt conceded defeat in the Parliamentary election, allowing former Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen to form a new government. In a truly democratic spirit of national solidarity, he welcomed the assumption of Mr. Mogens Lykketoft, Ms. Thorning-Schmidt's predecessor as leader of the Social Democratic Party, to the Presidency of the U.N. 70th General Assembly Session, followed a few months later with the UNHCR endorsement for his own predecessor.
  5. With worldwide headlines signaling unprecedented moves of desperate migrants, an option was mentioned by some visiting officials that it may be advisable to extend for a limited time the mandate of the incumbent High Commissioner for Refugees, former Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Guterres, who has been a hands-on manager with valuable field experience and credible, wide political support. That option was closed, it was indicated, by the Secretary-General who is entitled to nominate a new candidate to be elected by the General Assembly.
  6. Hardly anyone would question the leadership qualifications of Mrs. Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Her years of experience, particularly in Denmark's international involvements, testify to her commitment to human development causes. Pity that a "selfie" of her, together with U.S. President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron, was what drew worldwide perplexed attention during the funeral of legendary icon Nelson Mandela. Why she would wish to reside in Geneva -- in addition to her willingness to help -- may have varied explanations, including a possibility that she would be closer to her husband Stephen Kinnock who was just elected to the British Parliament.
  7. More curious would be whether Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would go along with that nomination. A partial claim referring to influence by his son-in-law as he was based -- and promoted -- in U.N. Operations office of the Danish capital is not particularly convincing. Nor is the suggestion of rewarding Denmark for voting for him in 2006. Copenhagen has always been a U.N. regional hub for Scandinavian countries, ever since the U.N. Information Centre covering all that region was established there during the Organization's formative years. Plus, although Ban Ki-moon is a family man who would certainly value his children, his nine years' experience as U.N. Secretary-General would cause him to approach such questions with special caution.
  8. The issue of equitable geographical representation among the senior levels at U.N. European Headquarters would require attention to avert further potential undue questions, particularly during the last year of this Secretary-General's tenure.
  9. The case over Geneva is certainly not similar to the brewing scandal in New York involving a former President of the General Assembly. But true are a number of stories circulating in Geneva, particularly on discreet "partnerships," "voluntary" support, and "capital improvement," not to mention the already-retired Omega man.