The Nato allies today picked Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as the defence alliance’s next secretary general.
In an official statement, the alliance said the ambassadors of the 19 Nato nations agreed that De Hoop Scheffer will succeed Britain’s Lord Robertson, who is stepping down in December after serving his four-year term.
Canada and France held up an agreement on De Hoop Scheffer last week. France wanted more time to discuss the issue and Canada stuck by its candidate, Canadian Finance Minister John Manley, who was the Dutchman’s main rival for Nato’s top job.
However, Manley failed to rally support from European allies reluctant to relinquish their traditional hold on the secretary-general’s post.
De Hoop Scheffer is seen as a bridge maker between the United States and those European allies whose opposition to the Iraq war earlier this year prompted Nato’s deepest split for years.
The Dutch government supported the war but avoided taking a high profile in the dispute with Nato’s anti-war nations led by France and Germany.
The centre-right government, which De Hoop Scheffer joined as foreign minister last year, has maintained the Netherlands’ traditional support both for closer integration among European nations and a strong trans-Atlantic alliance.
Although relatively inexperienced at the highest levels of government, De Hoop Scheffer, 55, has impressed his Nato colleagues with a no-nonsense approach and commitment to modernising the alliance.
A career diplomat turned politician, De Hoop Scheffer served at the Dutch mission to Nato in the 1980s, before entering the Dutch parliament where he rose to become leader of the centre-right Christian Democrats.
De Hoop Scheffer met President George Bush during in Washington last week, an event Dutch media called an American examination to determine if he was suited for the post. Diplomats said the meeting went well and the United States backed his candidacy.
Since Nato’s founding in 1949, the alliance’s top civilian post has been held by a European, while a US general serves as the supreme allied commander.
Lord Robertson, a former Labour defence minister, is to become a deputy chairman of telecommunication’s group Cable & Wireless