BRUSSELS — The new head of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization lavished praise on his European Union counterparts this week, months after prevailing in a hard-fought election campaign that saw concerns raised over his independence.
Qu Dongyu took up his post as FAO director-general on Aug. 1, having earned more votes from FAO members than two other candidates — Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, who was backed by France and the EU, and Davit Kirvalidze, supported by the United States — in a secret-ballot election in June.
“[The campaign] game is over … When I come to the office, let’s start [to] do business.”— Qu Dongyu, director-general, FAO
In the lead-up to the vote, the United States circulated a nonpaper warning that Chinese leaders of international organizations had “demonstrated a bias towards Chinese foreign policy and a lack of transparency and accountability.” EU officials were also dispatched to Rome in a last-minute attempt to rally support for Geslain-Lanéelle, an agronomy engineer and former executive director of the European Food Safety Authority.
Qu’s first-round victory, with 108 of the 191 votes, clearly stung in Brussels.
At a parliamentary meeting in July, Koen Doens — who has since become director-general of the European Commission’s development department — said that Qu’s victory was a sign that “everything is not always that great” when it comes to the EU’s ability to cooperate with poorer countries on the global agenda.
“We had an excellent European candidate,” Doens said. “I think that in terms of agricultural policy and all we are doing there — also with our partner countries — we are without doubt the leaders, but we have not always been followed.”
Geslain-Lanéelle has since become deputy head of cabinet to the EU agriculture commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski.
Qu met with Wojciechowski and Jutta Urpilainen, EU commissioner for international partnerships, on Monday in Brussels, where he also attended a meeting of EU agriculture ministers on protecting forests.
Qu told reporters that he was glad to have “close cooperation” with EU colleagues, whom he likened to “Santa Claus for the FAO” due to their timely funding payments.
“All the [EU] ministers are my friend. I got a very professional support from them,” he said. “[The campaign] game is over … When I come to the office, let’s start [to] do business.”
Qu added that the campaign had been useful in helping him rethink his priorities.
“It’s value added for me to let me think three times more if someone does not agree with me,” he said.
Yet Qu, previously vice minister of agriculture and rural affairs of China, was stumped when asked by Devex for his view on whether the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program should be replenished next year. Launched in 2010, GAFSP is a pot of donor financing that, by December 2018, had channeled $1.2 billion in funds to countries via agencies such as the World Bank, African Development Bank, and FAO — with 52%, 27%, and 2% of GAFSP’s public sector window funds, respectively — to fight hunger and malnutrition.
“You know, in the world, there are so many projects dealing with food security and the research and the management … I am not the right person to make detailed comments,” Qu said.