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Romanian president enters race for NATO leadership

Klaus Iohannis will face stiff competition from Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte for the position of secretary general

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis has announced his candidacy to replace Jens Stoltenberg as NATO’s secretary general. Iohannis entered the race despite the bloc’s leading members already backing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte for the role.

“I have decided to enter the competition for the position of secretary general of NATO,” Iohannis said in a video statement on Tuesday. “This decision is based on Romania’s performance, the experience accumulated during my two mandates as president of Romania, [and] my deep understanding of the challenges faced by NATO, Europe, and especially our region,” he stated.

Iohannis’ interest in the position was revealed last month by Bloomberg and Politico, although Romanian officials refused to comment on the reports.

Over the last three weeks, however, the US, UK, France, and Germany have all declared their support for Rutte – who is currently leading the Netherlands as caretaker prime minister – to succeed Stoltenberg. The “United States has made it clear to our allies, our NATO allies, that we believe Mr. Rutte would be an excellent secretary general for NATO,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters last month.

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Only Hungary has outright opposed Rutte’s nomination, with Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto announcing that Budapest “certainly can’t support the election of a man to the position of NATO’s secretary general who previously wanted to force Hungary on its knees.”

Szijjarto was referring to remarks made by Rutte in 2021, when the Dutch leader called for Hungary to be economically isolated and expelled from the EU over a law prohibiting the exposure of LGBT-themed content to minors.

There is no formal process by which NATO chooses its secretary-general. Instead, member states discuss candidates among themselves until a consensus is reached. Stoltenberg has chaired the bloc since 2014, and received a fourth extension to his term last summer. 

His successor will likely be picked during NATO’s summit in Washington this July, although a NATO diplomat told the German newspaper Welt last month that “the decision should, if possible, be made before the European elections in June.”

Romania has hiked its military spending every year since Iohannis took office in 2014, and in 2022 the country met NATO’s requirement that member states spend 2% or more of their GDP on defense. Last month, the Romanian Finance Ministry announced that military spending would be increased by 25% this year.


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