Romanian president's hopes of leading Nato fade

Romanian president's hopes of leading Nato fade
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis aimed to become the first East European Nato secretary general.
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest April 3, 2024

Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis’ hopes of becoming the next Nato secretary general have faded after two of the Baltic states expressed their support for rival candidate Mark Rutte, and the US also confirmed its backing for the caretaker Dutch prime minister. 

Rutte is now backed by 28 of 32 states of the Alliance to be the next leader, meaning he is almost certain to succeed the incumbent Nato head Jens Stoltenberg. 

Both Lithuania and Estonia indicated their support for Rutte on April 2.

Lithuania said it would support the Dutch leader's candidacy during Rutte's visit with President Gitanas Nauseda. The Lithuanian head of state said Rutte is "one of those politicians who recognised the Russian threat quite early" and radically adjusted his position accordingly.

Estonia also gave its support to Rutte. Prime Minister Kaja Kallas announced her position on X on Tuesday. She previously made critical comments about Rutte's candidacy, pointing out that the Netherlands has not met the Nato standard for defence expenditure. She also argued that a country from Eastern Europe deserves a chance to be represented at the head of the alliance.

Kallas said she believes that a strong Nato should focus on Russia, increase defence spending and support Ukraine's membership. "I have discussed this in-depth with Mark Rutte and he commits to these priorities. Estonia can back him for Nato's Secretary General," she said.

Meanwhile, the US ambassador to Nato stressed once again her country’s support for Rutte, while wishing “all the best” to Iohannis.

“I think you’re well aware that the US position is that we fully back Mark Rutte as the next Secretary-General, but we do have deepest respect for our friend President Iohannis as well and we appreciate him throwing his hat in the ring and wish him all the best as we continue to debate this issue across the Alliance,” US permanent representative to Nato, ambassador Julianne Smith said.

As Nato prepared to appoint a new secretary general just over two years into the war in Ukraine, a debate opened on whether the Alliance should for the first time pick a head from the eastern part of Europe. 

While Rutte is almost certain to be selected, the Dutch candidate has been quite active in demonstrating his country’s commitment to the Alliance’s Eastern flank including by announcing the deployment of a Patriot missile system to Lithuania.

Rutte said on April 2 that the Netherlands will temporarily deploy Patriot missile systems to Lithuania, as the Baltics seek Nato allies to rotate air defence capabilities to the region.

"Dutch armed forces are currently making preparations for a Patriot air defence unit to conduct an exercise in Lithuania this summer," Rutte told reporters in Vilnius, alongside Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda.

"Lithuania's borders are EU and Nato borders and that makes them our borders too … and we will defend them," Rutte said.