Romania’s president pitches to be CEE's candidate for Nato top seat

Romania’s president pitches to be CEE's candidate for Nato top seat
CEE leaders such as Romanian President Klaus Iohannis were prescient about the serious danger posed by Vladimir Putin, when many Western Europe leaders persisted in trying to engage with the Russian dictator.
By bne IntelliNews February 23, 2024

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis is bidding to become the next Nato secretary-general, even as opinion in the military alliance appears to be consolidating around the outgoing Dutch premier Mark Rutte.

Romanian diplomats have notified peers in other Nato countries about plans to propose Iohannis for the alliance’s secretary general position that becomes vacant this year after Jens Stoltenberg finally steps down, according to Bloomberg. The new secretary general is expected to take the helm in October.

The alliance's CEE countries had hoped to be strong contenders to helm the alliance this time around. Latvia’s Foreign Minister Krisjanis Karins has expressed interest in being considered, and Lithuania would like to see its Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte in the frame.

Estonia's premier Kaja Kallas, who was seen as the top candidate from Central and Eastern Europe, has yet to announce her next move following the announcement of US and West European support for Rutte. The Reform Party leader may be looking for a way out after her popularity slumped following a series of domestic scandals.

However, CEE countries – with the exception of Poland – are small contributors to Nato, though they are all now moving fast to meet the Nato spending target of 2% of GDP, at a time when many Western states – including Rutte's Netherlands – are still far behind.

Another strike against the CEE contenders is that they are seen by many Western members as too hawkish on Russia.

This is despite the fact that Poland and the Baltic states were particularly prescient about the serious danger posed by  Vladimir Putin, when many Western Europe leaders persisted in trying to engage with the Russian dictator.

By challenging Rutte, Iohannis could at least launch a much-needed debate among Nato’s members about the alliance’s commitment to help Ukraine and consolidate its Eastern Flank.

CEE countries are particularly concerned about potential wavering in the West's commitment ahead of a possible return of former US president Donald Trump to the White House. The Republican party in the US Congress is already holding up vital aid for Kyiv.

Trump himself is believed to support a quick peace deal in the war. He has also cast doubt on the US commitment to Nato's Eastern Flank, recently suggesting that he would even encourage the alliance's enemies to attack states that do not pay up for their own defence.

The anointing of Rutte has once again shown how Western countries continue to monopolise the allocation of top jobs in Nato and the EU. Polish premier Donald Tusk's previous appointment as head of the European Council stands out as a lone exception.

This was reportedly rubbed home by Rutte’s reported “lack of incentive in reaching out to nations on the border with Russia” , which is said to have annoyed countries in the region.

CEE countries will now be looking towards the EU foreign affairs commissioner post or the mooted new job of EU defence commissioner in the new Commission to be appointed after the the European parliamentary elections in June.

EU Commission Ursula van der Leyen recently suggested that such a role should go to a politician from the CEE member states. Kallas, Karis, as well as Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski  are seen as strong potential contenders, according to Politico.