Bulgaria’s candidate to be the next UN Secretary-General, Kristalina Georgieva, emphasised her record in achieving solutions at the World Bank and at the European Commission in a hearing by members of the UN General Assembly on October 2.
Georgieva, at the close of a question-and-answer session of just more than two hours, said that the job that had had the greatest impact on her had been her term as European Commissioner for humanitarian aid.
It had made her a better person, she said, underlining that she had seen “goodness so universal that people who have nothing help each other”.
“The problem in the world is that good is quiet, while hate is very loud, you hear it everywhere.” Should she be appointed UN Secretary-General, “my job must be to amplify this voice of goodness”.
In the course of the hearing, Georgieva repeatedly referred to her international multilateral experience as well as making frequent reference to her work at the head of the EU’s humanitarian operations.
At the opening of the hearing, she referred to her late entry into the race, with the Bulgarian government’s September 26 decision to nominate her in place of Irina Bokova. Georgieva said that she would have liked to come into the race much sooner.
Some of the questioners made similar reference to her late entry. Kenya’s permanent representative told her, “if you are the right woman for the job, maybe you are just in time”.
The representative of Saint Vincent and The Grenadines said that she was impressed by Georgieva’s “can-do” approach.
Georgieva faced questions on topics ranging from Syria, the cholera outbreak in Haiti, the Middle East, global division over nuclear disarmament, multilingualism, reform of the UN and the Security Council, sexual assaults by UN peacekeepers, co-operation with regional multilateral bodies, Islamophobia, terrorism and even sport.
In her opening remarks, she recounted the contrasting experience, when she was European Humanitarian Aid Commissioner, of being in a boisterous environment with a grandchild in Sofia, and then going on to Sahel, to a room full of children “so weak that they could not even cry”.
Later, she said that it was not the moving experience itself that was as important as what she had done afterwards, to rally resources and finance to deal with the situation. She also cited it as having shown the importance of pre-empting crises before they develop.
Georgieva said that what she had to offer, as a candidate to head the UN, was the ability to cut through complexities and be adaptable to a fast-changing world.
She added that she could bring people together “around solutions we can all support”.
At the European Commission, she had been privileged to lead transformational change, Georgieva said. emphasising, “I can get things done”.
On gender representation, she said that she had doubled the number of women in senior positions in the EU institution and if elected to head the UN, would do the same there.
On questions about the lack of geographical representation in senior levels of the UN, Georgieva said, more than once, that the “UN has to look like the world that sent us here.”
Asked by Tunisia’s representative, representing Arab states, about the situation of the Palestinian people, Georgieva said that eight UN secretaries-general had engaged with and been concerned with a situation that had remained unresolved for a very long time, not for a lack of effort. She pledged to concentrate on everything that the UN could do to support the peace process so that a solution could be achieved.
Georgieva said that in the Middle East, many young people lacked jobs and opportunities. She pledged a strong agenda to attract investments to the region, to create jobs via SMEs. Failure to do so, leaving young people to be drawn to radicalisation, would be on “our conscience”, Georgieva said.
On humanitarian crises, she said that her previous European Commission portfolio had taught her that the best way to deal with humanitarian crises was not to have them. This took political will, said Georgieva, who underlined the need to devote more resources to taking the initiative to pre-empt crises.
In a number of rounds of answering questions, Georgieva at first was at pains to hurry through the 10-minute slot allocated for answers each time. She did so not without humour. Her favourite prop was a book of the UN Charter, which more than once she held up as her guidebook to the role of the Secretary-General. Even on questions such as sport and multilingualism, she took the chance to cite her experience – arranging football for Libyans in the post-Gaddaffi era, to keep them from more dangerous pursuits, and on multilingualism, she pointed to her EC experience, at an institution that uses 24 languages and the portfolio for which is among hers.
The major indicator of her chances will come on October 5, when the UN Security Council holds the first straw poll since Bulgaria nominated Georgieva as her candidate. In that vote, the views of the five permanent members of the Council will be clear, through the use of colour-coded ballots.
Subjectively, with her attention to specifics and detail, her apparent thorough knowledge of a range of multilateral issues around the world, and her flashes of wit and humour, Georgieva turned in a performance at the UN General Assembly hearing vastly more persuasive than that of Bokova in April. But Georgieva is not running against Bokova, apart from the technical sense that the other Bulgarian – now running only as an individual without her country’s endorsement – is still in the race, for now.
Georgieva, who apart from being able to cite her professional experience also has the politically-important asset of being a woman from Eastern Europe, faces mustering a strong showing on Wednesday, proving herself to be a viable alternative to Antonio Guterres – leader so far in all the votes – and also emerging as a candidate acceptable to the rival interests among Security Council permanent members.