15 OCTOBER 2012


The harm is already done. To the U.N. image in Europe. To the Secretary General's reputation. To the devoted capable staff who were let go. To institutional memory about the U.N. The harm is already done.

Three million dollars were blown away on closing expenses. Tharoor's original estimate was a mere $400,000. There were rents paid for unused buildings. There were other "unforeseen" expenses. Additionally, there was, for example, the per diem paid for the German national officer who -- as an exception -- was asked to spend about 2 1/2 weeks in Bonn, the rest in Brussels; his per diem estimate was $1,500 per month -- $18,000 per year to ascertain whether he was in the Regional Bureau or the national post. He is known to be a very qualified professional. Only he would need to know precisely where he stands -- or sits!

The premises in Brussels was still not complete when the decision was announced. Its opening ceremony at the building's reception area was a farce. The then-Secretary General, Kofi Annan, eventually recognized the big blunder. His Deputy stated that much in a New York meeting with European Permanent Representatives.

It is time to redress the problem with the least expenditure and most efficiency. The conceptual framework could be the proposal of the 1997 U.N. Communications Task Force (Mark Malloch-Brown / Samir Sanbar) to adopt a regional approach with consolidated professional national support in each key capital. Key points:

    1. While continuing to enhance Brussels, re-negotiate with the governments of Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom the placement of a qualified national officer with supporting staff. Governments would contribute premises and part of staffing and operational expenses. Equally, insist on all U.N. offices to avoid duplication and focus their communications work through these national focal points.

    2. Make every effort to recruit the most qualified -- not F.O.S. (Friends of Shashi) types.

    3. Governments that turn down sharing expenses could be (politely yet clearly) named while reporting to the Committee on Information.

It may be about time for the Chef de Cabinet, Mark Malloch-Brown, to take direct charge of this venture. Already the European missions are grumbling, particularly that other regions like Africa, Asia and Latin America have pointed out the failures in Europe in order to stop further encroachment in their own regions. Thus, the proposals were stopped in their tracks. Indeed, more internationally recruited "directors" were appointed in capitals which will remain nameless at this time to avoid misunderstanding the purpose.

The U.N. System -- agencies and offices and programs -- should be brought into that new proposal for Europe. Their needs will have to be met, as they should by the Department entrusted with public outreach. Jointly, they could use the services of national officers, augment them and eventually join in the evaluation of their work, particularly through paying or withholding further payment.

The Regional hubs in Brussels, Geneva and Vienna -- plus sub-regional hubs elsewhere like in Copenhagen for Scandinavia and Latvia or Lithuania for the Baltic states -- should acquire solid credentials and gain professional credibility in providing guidance, support and "communication oxygen" to the national outpost.

This is just a kick-off general proposal, hoping that the Secretary General through his Deputy, the Chief of Staff and Under-Secretary General for Administration will begin to look into how best to retrieve the U.N. reputation in Europe.

The time is ripe. European delegates are ready. Now that the worse seems to be behind us, it will be a great pity if we don't seize the moment.

(Reprinted from 15 November 2005)