Issue 120 - December 18 - WEOG Agrees on Joseph Deiss as Candidate for GA President

New York, December 18,2009 - This week the UN Group of Western European and Other States (WEOG) agreed that Joseph Deiss of Switzerland would be its nominee for President of the 65th General Assembly (September 2010-September 2011).

The General Assembly will meet in May or June 2010 for the formal election, at which it is likely to elect Deiss by acclamation. If selected, Deiss will replace current President Ali Abdussalam Treki of Libya. It will be the first time for Switzerland to hold the Presidency.

Another WEOG member, Belgium, also had put forward a candidate, Louis Michel, who is currently a European Union Commissioner.

This is the second time in a row that WEOG's selection of a candidate for GA President has been competitive.

About Joseph Deiss

Deiss has served on the Swiss Federal Council in several key positions. He was the Federal Councillor for the Department of Foreign Affairs (Minister of Foreign Affairs) from 1999-2002.

(The Federal Council of Switzerland is the seven-member executive council which constitutes the government of Switzerland and serves as the collective head of state. The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs serves as Switzerland's ministry of foreign affairs.)

While at the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Deiss "led the successful campaign on Switzerland's accession to the United Nations," said the government's press release, and the country joined the UN in late 2002.

From 2003-2006 Deiss headed the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, and he was named President of the Swiss Confederation in 2004.

Selection Process

The General Assembly elects a president annually. The post rotates among the five geographic groups - Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and WEOG.

The election of the GA President is typically non-competitive, as most regions operate on a "first come, first served" basis. In WEOG, however, after one country announces interest in a post, others may still come forward. The last time WEOG had the post was for the 60th GA Session (2005-2006). Canada, Liechtenstein, and Sweden all nominated candidates, with Jan Eliasson of Sweden being elected.

An unwritten agreement says that that GA Presidents from WEOG will alternate between EU members and the others. Of WEOG's 28 members, 16 are members of the European Union. The others include the U.S. and Canada, Israel, Australia and New Zealand, and several smaller European countries. As Sweden is an EU member, some considered it (unofficially) the turn of a non-EU member this year.

Belgium announced its interest in the position in early 2007 but did not name a nominee. Then on September 17, 2009, Switzerland announced Deiss' candidacy. The next day, Louis Michel told a reporter that he was the candidate for Belgium.

The agreement to nominate Deiss was reached after a round of informal straw polling by the WEOG chair for the month of December, the delegation of Sweden. The Group then met in a closed meeting for a group straw poll, on Monday, December 14, during which Deiss secured more votes than Michel. The results were confirmed by Switzerland's delegation as well as the spokesperson for the GA president.

The election in the GA (by acclamation, traditionally) takes place a few months before the General Assembly session, in this case in May or June 2010. According to the GA's Rules of Procedures, as amended in 2003, the election must precede the start of the next session by at least three months, in order to allow for informal overlap between the outgoing and incoming Presidents.

Reactions to Nomination

Switzerland's Federal Council issued a statement on Tuesday, December 15 calling Deiss an "outstanding candidate" and "warmly welcom[ing] this vote of confidence" by the region.

Michel's candidacy reportedly may have suffered from the number of other international posts Belgium holds, including membership on the UN Human Rights Council for 2009-2012, as well as the following:

  • President of the European Council (Herman van Rompuy)
  • President of European Union (Herman van Rompuy)
  • European Commission:
    • Commissioner for Trade (Karel De Gucht)
    • Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid (Michel himself)
  • European Parliament
    • Head of Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) (Guy Verhofstadt)
    • Head of European Liberal Democrats (ELDR) (Annemie Neyts)

Switzerland, meanwhile, recently became Chair of the Council of Europe, and in the UN General Assembly, it chairs the powerful Fifth Committee on administrative and budgetary affairs.

Louis Michel "expressed disappointment that some European countries had chosen the Swiss over him since Switzerland is not part of the European Union and ‘has some problems with European values.'" He also said, "I don't understand why Finland, a country in the heart of Europe, or Germany, another country in the heart of the Europe, would support a candidate from a country which is not in the heart of Europe."

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