On 14 November, a roundtable discussion entitled ’New UN Secretary-General – New Beginning?’ was held at the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade (IFAT) on the Tasks and Challenges the Organization and its new Secretary-General are facing. The panelists were Mr. Tamás Kuntár, Head of the International Organizations Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Mr. Ervin Gömbös, Secretary-General of the United Nations Association of Hungary. The moderator was Ms. Marianne Berecz, senior research fellow at IFAT.

In her introductory note, the moderator called the attention to the fact that the UN deals with serious challenges like i.e. international terrorism, human trafficking, climate change, the protracted regional conflicts and raised the question whether the UN was still relevant. Mr. Gömbös argued that the UN has still comparative advantages, such as universality, global presence, or the strong commitment to the principles laid down in the preamble of the UN Charter. He further emphasized that the adoption of the Charter was a great achievement by itself, since it has laid the ground for economic growth and reducing inequalities and poverty. Mr. Kuntár concluded that the core question was rather related to the efficiency and not to the relevance of the UN, which is tested by today’s challenges. When touching upon climate change as one of the principal challenges, he noted that Hungary was the first among the EU member states to ratify the Paris Climate Agreement, emphasizing that the country’s role in the UN has shown a positive tendency recently. In his opinion, Hungary’s election to the Human Rights Council along the ever growing presence of the UN in Hungary support this fact.

Speaking about the newly elected Secretary-General, all participants expressed their regret that a female candidate could not be elected and that the Eastern European Group again lost the chance to delegate an SG; however, António Guterres was a wise choice due inter alia to his previous experience as the UNHCR. It was also mentioned that thanks to the public nomination of the candidates and the official hearings the election process was genuinely transparent. The fact that WFUNA published the mid-term results also increased the visibility.

The panelists discussed the new U.S. President’s potential impact on the official U.S positions in regards to the UN and expressed their hope that the level of American engagement with the UN and its endeavors will remain the same.

As for the constant strive for the reform of the UN, all participants agreed that the attempts have always been constrained by the different interests and opinions of the Member States, however, the efforts were not ineffective or frutile. Mr. Gömbös discussed in details on the promise of Mr. Guterres to spend more on conflict prevention and to increase the transparency of the Secretariat. Mr. Kuntár expressed his hope that the new Secretary-General would be able to speed up the reform process and also deal with the streamlining of parallel mandates and overlaps within the UN agencies and institutions.