15 June 2006

A high-powered visit by the Secretary General and the Deputy Secretary General to Brussels early July required some juggling by senior European officials of their summer work arrangements. It also sparked speculation as the visit request came around the same time as a letter from Security Council June President Danish Ambassador Ellen Margarethe Loj to General Assembly President Jan Eliasson advising that the Council will start considering the process of selecting a new Secretary General early July. "Members of any nationality" were invited to present candidates "in the spirit of transparency and dialogue."

While an official reason for travel will be announced -- varying from reform to coherence -- the diplomatic circuit in Brussels started buzzing with all sorts of options. Functionnaires in the European capital are as much in the dark as their colleagues in New York. Such delicate matters are usually handled by a limited circle, but inevitably spills out with time and persistent questioning. It is not that the Secretary General is trying to secure his "legacy" in an appropriate exit. Regardless of obvious upsets in his second term he could still be certain of continued international status. Some of his "team" are nervous about their future whereabouts -- and rightly so. But that does not include Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown. In typical self-deprecating style, the increasingly influential communicator insists that come December, he will be carrying the luggage to the gates. In a new incarnation, he could easily receive an offer in the private sector. The "buzz" in Brussels is that he may, however, "be persuaded" to stay if a suitable arrangement is made with an agreeable candidate even for an interim "introductory" period.

With limited time available, a seemingly sudden visit to Brussels will most likely deal with the future, not with the present. A number of diplomats feel that some sort of substantive exploration will be going on. And it has to do with the upcoming selection of a U.N. Secretary General.

Could Europe be preparing for a candidate while Asia is still finding its weary way? Would it be someone like Javier Solana, the most solid and accomplished diplomat on the international scene? Would the very experienced former Spanish Foreign Minister venture into untested waters? For example, would he not, first, wish to explore the position of China? Does Kofi Annan, who was just in Peking, have an indication on that score? The Security Council by structure is Eurocentric. There are three European permanent members and two European non-permanent. Five out of fifteen is already one-third. If a formidable candidate like Solana is presented, would a traditional geographical consideration withstand his overwhelming nomination? Would he want the job? Of course he would -- if he could. And there lies the question. Would the Europeans let him go, now that he is forging a coherent European policy? Would Europe wish to take initiative and "offend" Asia or wait until Asian countries appear helplessly fragmented -- then it will be too late?

If Javier Solana is not a candidate, would someone be prodding Europeans for a totally different name? In light of that "legacy" weekend, could it be "team" favourite Jan Eliasson, for example. The outgoing General Assembly President has been strengthened by a nomination as Sweden's Foreign Minister. That makes him part of decision making in Brussels. Would he happen to be in Brussels during Mr. Annan's visit? Before or after? Would Mr. Annan's recent visit to Beijing be of any relevance? Mr. Eliasson has been talking about Dag Hammarskjold throughout the year. A breakthrough for the former Swedish Secretary General was through a positive initiative by China on his birthday. When is Eliasson's birthday?!

All that speculation, however, remains just that -- speculation. There may be a straightforward simple explanation for the visit, if you would believe it. The Secretary General who is traveling to the capital of the European Community will be naturally accompanied by his senior European aide, the Deputy Secretary General.