Sunday, January 28, 2007

På Svenska

I'm not entirely certain how I will shape my future in the digital world. This blog in English is one of the alternatives, but another alternative is to do one more geared to the Swedish audience and then naturally in the local language.

I have set up a trial version that you can see. It's called Alla Dessa Dagar for reasons that are not immediately obvious but which I am trying to explain.

But sooner or later a choice will have to be made between the two different approaches.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Kosovo Questions

Once more it is the Balkans that is in the headlines. We are approaching the time when President Ahtisaari will present his ideas on Kosovo to both Belgrade and Prishtina.

And that will be the start of an intense period of diplomacy centered on Kosovo and Serbia.

On Tuesday evening I'm heading to Prishtina for some quick talks there during the Wednesday.

It is primarily Prime Minister Ceku and the UN head Ruckers who have expressed a desire to see me, and the best way of making that happen was for me to come down to them for some hours.

But I will also take the opporrtunity of seeing some others to get a better picture of the challenges abhead. That applies perhaps in particular to the economic situation of Kosovo which in my opinion should be given far more attention than is the fact.

There is the belief that if you take some sort of decision on the "status issue" you would automatically improve the economic and social situation. I fear that this is very far from what will happen, and that there is the risk of a rather rude awakening some time down the road.

And if you don't get a better economic situation for the inhabitants of Kosovo, I'm afraid that the political stability Kosovo so desperately need will also be in danger.

Today, approximately 60 % of the economy of Kosovo is based on money coming from abroad in different ways. That's a substantial increase in relation to the approximately 40 % it was during the Yugoslav years. But over the coming years there might well be a rather sharp reduction in these flows, and it will then be imperative that this is balanced by a dramatic increase in the activity of the domestic economy of Kosovo.

I want to know more about how the Kosovo instituitions are planning for the immense post-status challenges they will be facing.

Afghanistan, Lebanon and Kosovo

Home in Stockholm again after a rather hectic but essentially succesful week. It was Brussels, Riga, Stockholm, Paris and then Brussels again.

The discussions at the GAERC - the Foreign Ministers of the EI - on Monday were primarily about assessments of the results of the election in Serbia and the implications they would have.

For me they were a clear victory for the reform- and Europe-oriented political parties. The extreme nationalists in the Radical and Socialist parties actually declined, although the Radicals remained as the single largest party.

Discussions about these issues continued in Brussels yesterday as we had a joint informal luncheon between the Foreign Ministers of Nato and the European Union - although the overlap is of course rather considerable. In essence it was the US and Canadian ministers joining all their European colleaugues in a very uselful talk.

But as we discussed Kosovo at that luncheon, our attention had been focused on the issues of Lebanon and Afganistan in previous meetings in Paris on Thursday and earlier during the day at Nato headquarters in Brussels.

President Chiraq was really successful in mobilizing international support for Lebanon at the Paris III conference. It was a significant international event.

And financial help is really needed if the country should have any possibility of coming back. It's still suffering from the consequences of its 18 years long civil war, and to this was then added the devastating conflict last summer. I was able to announce a further Swedish contribution of Euro 4,5 million.

It was an impressive gathering in Paris with good opportunities for informal discussions also on other subjects.

As one can see, the challenge of fragile and failing states, as well as national and ethnic conflicts in sensitive areas, requires an enormous amount of both attention and resources. We can not afford to fail in either Afghanistan, Lebanon or Kosovo since the consequences of failure will have ramifications over very wide regions.

For me it was my first visit in my new capacity to Nato headquarters, although it is of course a place where I have been many times before in different other capacities. But as a nation we now have a close partnership with Nato in the stability operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan, and there is the need for a much closer dialogue also on the political level.

Nato and the EU need to work closer together in the future. At the luncheon we all agreed that we have to tear down that invisible wall that divides Brussels into Nato and the EU. In Kosovo as well as other places there will have to be very close coordination.

And I will certainly be back at Nato within the not too distant future to continue efforts and discussions in this direction.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Onwards to Brussels

Later today I'm taking off for Brussels, preparing for the monthly meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council.

GAERC - as is the romantic description of this august body of the 27 foreign ministers of the European Union.

When we sit down in the Justus Lipsus building in Brussels tomorrow it will be to a rather heavy agenda dominated by the Balkans and the Middle East, but certainly dealing also with Somalia and Sudan as well as pre-viewing some of the core issues for the upcoming European summit on energy security and climate change.

From Brussels I'm flying directly tomorrow late afternoon to Riga in Latvia.

I have already been to Tallinn and Vilnius, and had been planning to go to Riga already earlier. It is important to reconnect the network of cooperation in the Nordic and Baltic area, and I certainly look forward to the talks I will have in Riga with the President, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister.

Riga is a true metropolis of the Baltic region that is now rapidly regaining its historic role. It's a splendid and truly booming city in a country with a growth record among the most impressive in modern Europe.

After a day in Stockholm on Wednesday I'm off to Paris on Thursday for the big international conference on Lebanon. It will be an impressive gathering also to show support for the position of Prime Minister Siniora, and I'm certain that the discussions in the corridors will be dominated by the broader Middle East issues.

From there I'm continuing to Brussels on Friday where there is a special meeting of the foreign ministers of Nato to discuss primarily the situation in Afghanistan.

We have a keen interest in these discussions since we are among the troop contributors to the ISAF mission there, and I'm looking forward to the lunchean that also includes the EU countries not members of Nato.

The Week That Was

Last week turned out to be even more hectic than I expected - but also more fruitful.

I had a most useful visit to Belgrade and to Southern Serbia. With due respect to diplomatic conversations - it is useful to come out and meet the concerns of people in villages and farms and small towns. And that is what I did with President Tadic on Monday of last week.

What struck me most from these poor areas of Southern Serbia was the fact that every time the word "Europe" was mentioned there was spontaneous applause. You could feel and see and hear the soft power of the European Union during those meetings.

The ideologies of the past no longer appeals, and I believe that noy even the appeals to raw nationalism don't work to the same extent as before. It is dream of Europe that is the dream of a better future for many of the peoples of the Balkans.

It goes without saying that these expectations will be very difficult to meet. European integration can do a lot - but not everything.

But the very fact that these expectations are there is a powerful political fact - if they are ignored or rejected there are bound to be consequences. I would not rule out that such a situation would give the forces of raw nationalism a new life.

But it wasn't only Serbia and the discussions there - centred on what could happen after today's election - that were useful last week.

In Rome - apart from attending a big conference on Balkan policy together with Commissioner Olli Rehn - I had a very fruitful meeting with Foreign Minister D'Alema.

We broke all time schedules as we discussed primarily the Middle and the Balkans, but we also had time for an interesting exchange on developments in Russia. Our political backgrounds are very different, but I believe it is fair to say that we were very much on the same wavelength, and there is a good ground for a closer cooperation between Stockholm and Rome on a number of important subjects.

On Wednesday I was in Helsinki for more traditional informal talks on security policy. It was the foreign and defence ministers of the two countries meeting over a good meal at a manor house on the outskirts of Helsinki.

As usual between our two countries it was an excellent meeting of minds.

In terms of security policy our orientations and ambitions are very similar, with a more relaxed attitude towards practical cooperation with Nato than before, although there are differencies in the ways in which our respective defence forces have so far adjusted and been transformed.

And Thursday I spent - apart from the regular meeting of the government - mostly in the Riksdag debating different issues.

We had a long and excellent discussion on the situation in the Middle East, and it was worth noting that while there are certainly tensions between different interpretations of the basic situation in the area, there was a very broad consensus on the tasks ahead for European and Swedish policy in the area.

In this area, I see my task more as trying to shape the future than in trying to judge the past.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

From Belgrade to Rome

Late yesterday evening I returned home from an eventful day in Vilnius.

It was Freedom Defenders Day, and apart from the special session in parliament where I was among the speakers we all attended the special commemorative mass in Vilnius Cathedral in the evening. I walked down the aisle of the cathedral filled with people together with Vytautas Landsbergis, who remains the hero of Lithuania's struggle for independence.

But later today I'm off to Belgrade in Serbia for political talks, and tomorrow I'm heading together with the President of Serbia Boris Tadic to Southern Serbia in order to visit different development projects.

Serbia faces important parliamentary elections January 21st, and it is of course of critical importance to demonstrate that there is a European option for the country. The stability of Serbia is a key to the stability of the entire region, and there are significant challenges - Kosovo certainly among them - to be handled in the next few months.

I will have talks - apart from with the President - also with Prime Minister Kostunica and Foreign Minister Draskovic.

From Nis in Southern Serbia I'm flying tomorrow evening to Rome to have dinner with the European Commissioner Olli Rehn who is responsible both for enlargement and Balkan policy.

And on Tuesday both he and I are taking part in a public debate on the future challenges in the Balkans together with, among others, Italian Foreign Minister D'Alema.

We will also discuss the approach we need to take in the coming weeks and months towards these issues. They will be high up on the European agenda during the spring, and my quick trip now is part of the preparations for those policy decisions on the European level.

Friday, January 12, 2007

From Madrid to Vilnius

It's been a somewhat hectic week, and I'm sorry I have not been able to post anything since Sunday.

But I have noted the very positive reaction to me being back here - although not in the same way as before.

I spent Wednesday and Thursday in Madrid at a major gathering 15 years after the historic conference on peace in the Middle East. The meeting was supported by the Foreign Ministers of Spain, Norway, Denmark and Sweden and brought together for informal discussions many key decision-shapers from the region.

All in all I flew back from Madrid with a marginally less pessimistic assessment of the situation. Things could easily go very wrong - but there is a slight possibility that we might succeed in turning things around.

In my opening remarks I stressed that time is not necessarily on the side of peace any longer.

There is a risk of not only rising tensions but also the rise of forces that might challenge the very foundations on which peace must be built. So, time is of the essence, and what we need is no longer a peace process - what we need is peace.

Back in Stockholm from Madrid I followed the latest move in the somewhat bizarre efforts to attack my due to the remumeration I received from some of my board positions before becoming Foreign Ministers.

Specifically, it concerned the share options I received as part of the board remumeration from the investment company Vostok Nafta. As appropriate, I sold them as soon as I could, but to some that wasn't enough and they called for all sorts of investigations.

As is usual in this sort of case, there was the usual media frenzy as well. The media hunts in herds.

But earlier today the legal inquiry very solidly rejected all the accusations and attempts to smear me. This was the much stronger as it come from a prosecutor well known for taking the strictest of views on these sorts of issues.

Naturally, this will not stop the political opposition. They have nothing to say about foreign affairs - but smear campaigns they can always mount. I don't think there are too many who will be much impressed by their efforts.

From Stockholm I flew to Vilnius for a very special evening.

Tonight is 16 years since Soviet forces stormed the TV tower in Vilnius in their attempts to smash the forces of freedom and democracy. Thirteen young people lost their lives that night.

I attended the commemorative vigil outside the Parliament building tonight, meet the heroes of those days and was also suddenly invited the address all those that had gathered to remember, to sing the songs and to express their faith in their country.

And tomorrow I will address the special session of Parliament. I will speak about our vision for all of Europe, and the text will be available on the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs web site immediately.

Then I stay here during the day.

I'll see the KGB museum. And I'll see my old friend Emmanual Zingeris to continue discussions on efforts to restore parts of the old ghetto of Vilnius. This was - before the immense tragedy of the Holocaust - the Jerusalem of Eastern Europe, and the contribution that Jews from here have done in many countries has been enormous.

Before flying home I will attend - with the President and the Prime Minister - the special commemorative mass in Vilnius Cathedral.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Against the Executions in Iraq

The execution of Saddam Hussein turned into a horrible spectacle that did not reflect well on the authorities that carried it out.

It would have been far better if one had listened to the European and other voices that had called for his sentence to have been changed to life time imprisonment.

Let's at the least hope that the Iraqi government is now ready to listen to this appeal just issued by the Presidency of the European Union:

The Iraqi Government intends to execute Barzan Ibrahim Al-Tikriti, formerly head of one of the intelligence services, and Awad Hamed Al-Bandar, formerly president of the Revolutionary Court. The Presidency recalls the longstanding position of the EU with regard to the death penalty. The EU opposes capital punishment under all circumstances.

Both, Mr Al-Tikriti and Mr Al-Bandar, were high-ranking representatives of Saddam Hussein?s regime, which had brutally oppressed its own population for decades. Thousands of innocent people were killed and tortured, many disappeared.

Iraqis deserve a better future. To this end, it will be crucial to bring together all parts of Iraqi society irrespective of ethnicity or religious affiliation. Ensuring accountability for the crimes committed during the former regime can assist in furthering national reconciliation and dialogue in Iraq. The Presidency recalls that in order to achieve this important aim the prosecution of those crimes must adhere to the requirements of a fair process.

Europe Starting Up

As expected, we had a good aqnd important European meeting on Somalia in Brussels on Wednesday.

After the celebrations marking the entry of Romania and Bulgaria into the Union, this was the first event of the German Presidency during the first part of 2006.

Now, the meeting in Brussels is now followed by a meeting in Nairobi of the wider International Contact Group on Somalia. This is the occasion for more detailed discussions on how a political reconciliation process in the country can be launched.

There are also discussions on some sort of peacekeeping force to be sent to the country. But such a force first requires a peace to be kept. Force can not replace peace - it can support it. First things first.

My day in Brussels also gave opportunities for other discussions in a city that hadn't really come back from the holidays.

And the same still applies to Stockholm, which has given me some breathing space for planning activities at the ministry.

Next week will be different. Europe is starting up again.

On Wednesday I'm off to Madrid for a major conference 15 years after the Madrid conference that started a peace process in the Middle East. Now there will be discussions on the step that must be taken now to achieve not just a process but preferably a peace.

There is little doubt that this will one of the issues at the top of the European foreign policy agenda in the next few months.

By that time we might also know more about where President Bush intends to take his Iraq policy. Will he take up the recommendation from the Iraq Study Group to launch a major diplomatic initiative to revive a Middle East peace process?

Javier Solana is in Washington these days, and he will certainly tell all he is meeting the priority that we Europeans attach to this. This was also the message that Chancellor Merkel brought to the White House when she saw President Bush yesterday.

The conference in Madrid is hosted by the Foreign Ministers of Spain, Norway, Denmark and Sweden - so I'll see my Nordic colleauges there as well. It also brings together a number of individuals and public figures from the region itself in order to take stock of what's been happening during the past 15 years.

After Madrid I'm coming home very briefly to Stockholm - hopefully to see Foreign Minister Peter MacKay of Canada; his schedule is still somewhat uncertain - before proceeding on Friday to Vilnius in Lithuania.

There I'm speaking Saturday at a special session of the Seimes - Parliament - to remember those that died in front of the Soviet tanks 15 years ago in 1991. But it will also be the occasion of a seminar bringing together some of the key thought leaders on the issues of Europe's East.

And from there I'm off to the Balkans - but that's another story for another blog entry.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Future of Somalia

After celebrating the New Year and the entry of also Romania and Bulgaria into the European Union, it is the crisis in Somalia that is at the top of the foreign policy agenda.

On Wednesday I'm heading to Brussels for a meeting of the European members of the International Contact Group on Somalia.

It's a meeting that is the result of talks during the last week between European Commissioner Michel, Foreign Minister Steinmeier of Germany and myself, and we will all of course be there.

The aim is to coordinate the European approach to the crisis in Somalia. In the days to follow there will then be more broadly based meetings primarily in Nairobi on the concrete steps to be taken. That will be an opportunity to coordinate more closely also to the United States.

With the immediate phase of military operations inside Somalia now ended, there is a need to move forward with a political dialogue aimed at the setting up of a government that is seen as representative by all of the country. Although the representatives of the present Transitional Federal Government have now been in Moghadishu or its environs, it seems obvious that there will have to be a more broadly based solution.

The risks of the country falling further down into chaos are very real. A return to the rule of the competing warlords must be avoided. This both in order to reduce the suffering of the ordinary people and to prevent the country being a safe haven for terrorists of different sorts.

I fail to see that the Ethiopian troops that have now entered in large numbers can remain for long. They risk being seen as a force of occupation, and then provoke more of violence and conflict. It is not a coincidence that the UN Security Council has said that neighbours should have no military role in bringing stability to the country.

Whether there would be the need for some sort of international stability force remains to be seen. Uganda is said to have offered troops, but that is unlikely to be enough. But clear is that there has to be a broadly based political agreement before there is any stability force.

And then there will of course be the need for both immediate humanitarian and more long-term state-building aid efforts. Here it is to be expected that the countries and institutions of the European Union will be the main actors.

All of this will be on the agenda in Brussels on Wednesday.

I'm coming there from Stockholm, and Gunnilla Carlsson - Minister for Development Assistance - is joining me from Washington where she has been attending the state funeral for former President Ford.

And I also expect the Foreign Minister of Norway Jonas Störe to ge there. Not the European Union - but still Europe.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Policy for a New Era?

For those interested in my approach to the challenges we are facing in the world today, it might be interesting to read the speech I gave to the Swedish Institute for International Affairs on December 19th.

The text can be found on the Ministry website on my own old one and on the site of the Institute.

Those interested can there also access the video version of the event.

The speech has been fairly widely commented upon in Sweden, although mostly in general appreciative terms without going too much into the substance.

But it does set out both my vision and my priorities. It combines optimism about the possibilities of globalisation with pessimism concerning the dark clouds gathering on the more immediate horizons of the neighbourhood of Europe.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Future of This Blog?

As has been noted, this blog has gone inactive since I was asked to serve as Foreign Minister of Sweden in early October.

It is not easy to combine blogging with having an official position. Your worlds are scrutinzed in a somewhat different way - as indeed they should be.

It's really the difference between being an observer of politics and an active participant in some of the same events. And the two roles are very different, with blogging fitting better with the first than with the second of these two functions.

Nevertheless, the web is an important tool also of the increasingly important public diplomacy.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs does maintain it's somewhat dull site in Swedish as well as another one in English, although I have to admit that they don't really meet the standards that must be achieved these days. Work is underway to improve them, although government bureucracies don't really operate with the speed of the light.

To which extent I will have the possibility of continuing to post on this or another blog now and then remains to be seen, but since I noted that there are hundreds of visitors each day in spite of the blog being virtually "dead" since months back I just wanted to note the state of affairs.

We'll see.

A new year might bring new opportunities also in this respect.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

New Government in Sweden

Well, things do happen in life, as we know.

On Friday I was appointed Foreign Minister of Sweden in a move that was widely seen as somewhat surprising.

And in many ways it was. But when asked, while it wasn't entirely easy to say yes, it would have been impossible to say no.

So that's the way it is. And there is a very good team at the ministry with Gunilla Carlsson doing international development issues and Maria Borelius doing international trade. In addition, there is Cecilia Malmström as Minister for European Affairs located in the Prime Minister's Office.

All together a rather strong team.

And the policy declaration of the new government is also very clear on the priorities also in foreign affairs.

We clearly want to be in the centre of the process of European integration. We want a Europe that is a strong voice for freedom, democracy, peace and reconciliation throughout the world. We are convinced of the need to go on with the process of enlargement of the European Union. We seek security in the cooperation with other nations. We value the transatlantic link. We remain a strong supported of the United Nations.

All in all a modern foreign policy.

So that's what I'm doing at the moment. These days to a large extent getting the house in order. But then onwards...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Call For Mid East Action

Today is published a major appeal for a new push towards peace in the Middle East, signed by a large number of public leaders around the world.

And I am among those that have signed the appeal.

It comes at the same time as US Secretary of State Rice is touring the region and exploring the possibilities of moving forward.

And it comes when there is a mounting interest in Europe in taking some sort of initiative. The present policy vacuum on the key issues of the conflict are nothing less than dangereous.

Another appeal in another critical situation.

Will it have any effect?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Keflavik Moves On

A couple of days ago, the last part of the US military base at Keflavik on Iceland was closed down.

It's a historic move showing the new times we are living in.

For close to a generation, Keflavik was the by far most important military installation in northern Europe. It was the linchpin of Atlantic and Northern security during the cold decades of the Cold War.

Operated primarily by the US Navy, the mission centered on the runways, command and control as well as intelligence facilities at and around Keflavik was to prevent any Soviet naval break-throughs towards the Atlantic supply lines connecting the United States and Western Europe, as well as facilitating Western movements up towards the northern parts of the Atlantic.

From here, important parts of the vast sub-surface and air patrol system that sought to track Soviet nuclear submarines as they exited their base areas up on the Kola peninsula or beyond and heading towards the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland were run.

In addition, there were the aircrafts for the air defence of Iceland and the very large radar stations on northern and eastern parts of Iceland.

It was no coincidence that one of the books trying to look into how a possible Soviet surprise attack against the West would look started with a very cleverly executed raid against Keflavik. It was the key installation.

But no it's all gone. Left are empty hangars and large living quarters for the thousands of soldiers and families that were stationed there.

It's a new world.

Ban Ki Moon Takes Clear Lead

Yesterday's straw poll in the Security Council made it likely that Ban Ki Moon would in fact emerge as the next Secretary-General of the United Nations.

He was the only one of the contenders that did not receive one or more discouraging votes from permanent members of the Security Council, as well as receiving encouraging ones from 14 out of the 15 members.

And number two in the race - Shashi Tharoor from India- immediately gave a concession speech and pledged his support for Ban Ki Moon.

More important than this were statements by the ambassadors of both China and the United States. China's Permanent Representative said that it was "quite clear" that Mr Moon was the candidate, and John Bolton for the US said that he would be "surprised" if there were any new names that would enter the race.

So much for my previous guess that this would in fact happen!

The Security Council now moves towards a formal vote next Monday. That might decide the issue, with the nomination of the Council then going forward for confirmation to the General Assembly.

Latvia's Vike-Freiberga came in a most honourable number three in this last straw poll, although with two permanent members - Russia? China? - casting discouraging votes.

But all in all it was a most impressive achievement by her and by Latvia.

Now we will see what happens on Monday.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Bosnian Challenges

If I was wrong in my predictions for the Austrian elections, it looks as if I was somewhat less unsuccesful in the Bosnian case.

With preliminary results in, we see a significant shift among both the Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Serb voters.

The old and traditional nationalist parties - SDA and SDS, respectively - have been outflanked and defeated by forces using more of nationalist rhetoric, although a general desire for change has in all probability also played a role.

The Bosnian Muslim seat in the Presidency will now be taken by Haris Silajdzic and the Bosnian Serb one by Nebojsa Radmanovic.

The former wants to abolish Republika Srpska, while the latter comes from a party that has recently started to toy with the idea of abolishing Bosnia. Eleven years after Dayton, that's not too encouraging a result.

But while things do look bad on paper I don't think there is any cause for alarm. And I would strongly caution against any thought of outside political intervention of the one sort or the other.

At the end of the day these gentlemen will have to find their own compromises if they want to live together. And with all of Europe - including, slowly and somewhat reluctantly even the Balkans - coming together they know that they haven't got much of a choice.

So Bosnia is to be congratulated to a well run and democratic election. That's good.

And then it is to be wished well in its attempts to live with the result.

That's democracy. Sometimes a messy thing - but always better than the alternatives.

The New Week

Another week of changes starting its journey.

On Friday we'll get the new government in Sweden. And there will obviously be a new government in Austria at some point in time.

We are still waiting for the election results from Bosnia to see what they might imply.

And that local elections in Hungary brought setbacks for the ruling Socialists was hardly surprising.

The week will also bring important local elections in Georgia - in the middle of its dangereous crisis with Russia.

My week will be somewhat more Stockholm than usual.

But on Wednesday and Thursday I'm off to Rome for meetings there with business and government representatives, including Prime Minister Prodi. It will be centered on the role and possibilities of Italy as globalisation accelerates.

And then I might head from there to Brussels for some informal talks on the question of Turkey's accession to the European Union. That's a subject that will also be in focus the coming days due to Chancellor Merkel's visit to Ankara in the weel.

Slowly, we see autumn arriving in Stockholm.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Surprise in Austria

It is indeed somewhat of a surprise to everyone to see the SPÖ coming out on top of the Austrian elections today.

Everyone - including myself - had expected ÖVP and Chancellor Schuessel to come out on top, although probably not repeating the very good 2002 election result.

But the voters wanted otherwise. ÖVP lost more than 8 % and ended up with 66 seats in the Nationalrat, while SPÖ lost 0,8 % and ended up with 68 seats.

And that means that the SPÖ leader Gusenbauer is likely to be the one trying to form a coalition - which at the end of the days might well include ÖVP.

If you compare with the Swedish election two weeks ago, it's interesting to see the difference between the two countries.

While SPÖ completely dominated Vienna, with ÖVP only having marginally more than 20 % there, the Social Democrats in Sweden suffered their worst losses in the metropolitan Stockholm area, and are now a distinct minority party there, with the Moderates being the by far leading force among the uran middle classes.

In contrast. ÖVP retains its bastions in Tyrol, where the SPÖ is virtually nothing. This sounds rather like the Swedish Social Democrats who are scoring their best results in the less populated, rural and somewhat problematic parts of the country.

Two different countries.

Now let's see what kind of government Mr Gusenbauer will manage to get together.

It's Austria, and it will take some time.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Liberal Conservatism

I promised to come back to David Cameron as well after my comments on - and praise for - Tony Blair.

On September 11 he delivered a speech on foreign affairs that has been much commented upon since.

That's primarily because his phrase that Britain should be "solid but not slavish" in its friendship with the United States. The swipe at Blair was difficult not to understand.

But there is far more to the speech than that.

In fact, he makes a rather interesting attempt to distinguish his so called liberal conservatism on international affairs from the so called neo-conservatism that has been doing much of the running in the Anglo-Sachson world in the last few years.

And its worth reading.

I particularly liked the way he looks at the struggle against terrorism around the world:

"Part of the problem we have encountered these past five years is that the struggle has been perceived - as the terrorists want it to be perceived - as a single struggle between single protagonists.

The danger is that by positing a single source of terrorism - a global jihad - and opposing it with a single global response - American-backed force - we will simply fulfil our own prophecy.

We are not engaged in a clash of civilisations, and suggestions that we are can too easily have the opposite effect to the one intended: making the extremists more attractive to the uncommitted

This is not to deny the connections between terrorist activity in different parts of the world.

It is simply an appeal for us to be a little smarter in how we handle those connections.

Our aim should be to dismantle the threat, separating its component parts, rather than amalgamating them into a single global jihad that simply becomes a call to arms.

I think this is entirely correct - and the difference between much of what is dominating on the other side of the Atlantic is profound.

It is by dismantling or disaggregating the situations, and then dealing with them one after the other, that we have the greatest possibilities of making progress.

Lumping them all together in one big battle to which we also give the description "war" probably serves Usama bin Laden better than it serves anything else.

The David Cameron restyling has certainly been about style to a very large extent.

But the speech on foreign policy showed interesting and important substance as well.

Green Green Green Blue

With the UK Conservatives getting together for their party conference in Bournemouth, there will be a lot of attention on the changes they are undergoing.

Is it just style? Where is really the substance?

As usual there is likely to be a bit of both in what's going on, and that's only natural.

When times are changing the challenges of politics are changing and so must the political parties.

Tony Blair spoke about how the issues have gone from being "essentially British" a decade or so ago to being "essentially global" today and tomorrow. Very true. And very important.

The Conservatives are also emphasizing the global, although trying to perform the interesting intellectual balancing act of doing so without mentioning or getting involved with European issues.

And they are emphasizing their new green and environmentally friendly image. The tree-huggers of Notting Hill.

Just look at the new symbol and log of the Conservative Party.

Not really Churchill. Not really Macmillan. Certainly not Thatcher.

But certainly modern.

Next Round UN Race

Well, I was not entirely correct in my previous entry on the race to select the next Secretary-General of the UN.

There was indeed an interesting straw poll among UNSC members on Thursday.

But it had been decided to have another one on Monday - and that will be the one with colour-coded votes so that there is a difference between permanent and non-permanent member states.

That's when the real drama will begin.

Thursday's straw poll was interesting in that Latvia's Vaira Vike-Freiberga - who entered the race only two weeks ago - come in at third place. She had seven votes encouraging her against six votes discouraging her.

Only two candidates - present front-runner Ban Ki Moon from South Korea and Sashi Tharoor from India - did better. All others had more discoraging than encouraging votes - de facto the end of them.

The performance of Vaira Vike-Freibergis is indeed impressive, and she should be truly congratulated. Her success benefits the image of her country and all three of the Baltic countries.

But it's on Monday it gets real.

Will Russia put a red vote to her since she's Latvian? Probable, I would say. She has done a lot to improve relations between Russia and Latvia, but it's doubtful whether that's enough.

And which red votes will there be against the others? China will take out of the race the candidates it does not want to see going to the final round.

It will be interesting to follow, and this website will give you the latest.

At the end of the day I stand by my guess that it's likely to end up with someone who's not on today list.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Next UN Secretary General

This is the day for a critical straw poll among the members of the UN Security Council on who will be the next Secretary General.

And its the first of the straw polls that makes a difference between permanent and non-permanent members of the Council. One discouraging vote from one of the so called P5's de facto means a veto and exit from the race.

In previous straw polls, there has be no way of seeing the rather critical difference betweehn the two categories of members.

Today, New York Times has invited the six official candidates to briefly present their views on what they want to do.

It makes interesting reading. I know three of them fairly well - they are all highly qualified individuals.

So far there are six candidates, but my guess that at the end of the day at the least one of them will be out of the game.

And my guess is also that there is more than a fair chance that the final choice of the P5 - in effect, the decision is theirs - will not be a person on the list of today.

Essentially Global

Passing by London on my way back from New York was a good opportunity to get up to speed on the transformations underway on the British political scene.

The Labour party has just finished its conference in Manchester, and the Conservatives are only days from theirs in Bournemouth.

Tony Blair is leaving - although probably not until May of next year or so - and Labour is challenged by the new Conservative leader David Cameron.

His ratings might be fairly low on the British scene at the moment, but I persist in seeing him as one of the both best and most interesting major political leaders in terms of making speeches.

And his farewell in Manchester was certainly not exception to that rule. It's worth reading in its whole.

But here I'll just quote at some length what he said about how the challenges of politics have changed during the last decade. From being essentially national, they have now become essentially global:

The scale of the challenges now dwarf what we faced in 1997. They are different, deeper, bigger, hammered out on the anvil of forces, global in nature, sweeping the world.

In 1997 the challenges we faced were essentially British. Today they are essentially global.

The world today is a vast reservoir of potential opportunity. New jobs in environmental technology, the creative industries, financial services. Cheap goods and travel. The internet. Advances in science and technology.

In 10 years we will think nothing of school-leavers going off to university anywhere in the world.

But with these opportunities comes huge insecurity.

In 1997 we barely mentioned China. Not any more. Last year China and India produced more graduates than all of Europe put together.

10 years ago, energy wasn't on the agenda. The environment an also-ran.

10 years ago, if we talked pensions we meant pensioners.

Immigration hardly raised.

Terrorism meant the IRA.

Not any more.

We used to feel we could shut our front door on the problems and conflicts of the wider world. Not any more.

Not with globalisation. Not with climate change. Not with organised crime. Not when suicide bombers born and bred in Britain bring carnage to the streets of London . In the name of religion.

A speech by the Pope to an academic seminar in Bavaria leads to protests in Britain.

The question today is different to the one we faced in 1997.

It is how we reconcile openness to the rich possibilities of globalisation, with security in the face of its threats.

How to be open and secure.

I would hope that every major political leader in every European country would be ready to spell out the nature of the tasks ahead in the same way.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Gloomy Perspectives

Just preparing to leave New York and head back to Sweden after an intense day of discussions here.

At the SACC NY centennial, Richard Holbrooke and I had a public discussions on the different challenges we are facing in the years ahead.

I'm afraid it was a rather gloomy session.

While I spoke of most things between Kabul and Khartoum becoming increasingly problematic, Holbrooke said the same but used the expression between Beirut and Bombay. At the end of the day it means the same.

And we both failed to see the coherent either European or American policies to address this, not to speak about coherence in approach across the Atlantic. But we agreed that without that appearing, the situations are likely to get worse.

Meanwhile, President Bush in Washington is trying to get President Musharaf of Pakistan and President Kharazai of Afghanistan to improve their relationship and be more effective in countering what the New York Times today actually calls an "insurgency" in Afghanistan.

The seriousness of the situation is illustrated not only by the word "insurgency", but also by fear that it is getting "iraqized". Not good.

President Bush has also decided to release to the public important part of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) dealing with terrorism that's been subject of controversy in the last few days.

It's worth reading - without being particularly sensational. You can find it through the NYT article on the subject.

Better head back to Stockholm.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mounting Concerns Across Atlantic

I see that UPI in a telegram has picked up on one of the discussions we had in Berlin a couple of days ago, quoting some of the more worried words that I had to say on the situation in the Middle East.

It was indeed a discussion dominated by mounting concerns.

Everywhere in the region - from Kabul to Khartoum - our policies as well as the situation is "heading South", as they would say on this side of the Atlantic.

And discussions here in New York today in and around the United Nations have not given much ground for optimism.

There is a desperate feeling in the air, and that could perhaps lead to something coming together to produce something. But there are formidable forces working in the opposite direction as well.

Could the European Union take a credible initative? Could Europe and the United States join forces for something truly comprehensive in the region?

I don't know. No one else seems to know either.

But things are not moving in the right direction. Mildly speaking.

Morning by East River

A beutitful morning in New York. The summer seems to be lingering on her as well.

Just heading for breakfast a couple of blocks from the UN building on East River.

The morning TV news is dominated by different aspects of security and foreign affairs issues as the controversies ahead of the mid-term elections are increasing.

A news report last week about a secret National Intelligence Estimates that evidently states the obvious in claiming that the situation in Iraq has become a focus for recruiting terrorists is at the centre of the debate at the moment.

The Democrats are obviously making the most of it. To counter the Bush claim that he has made America safer is politically important.

But administration spokesmen are saying that this is too limited a view of what the NIE is actually saying, and in all probability it is also saying that the US had had some success in reducing the possibilities of the al-Qaeda core network.

All fairly obvious. You don't need leaks from a secret report to understand that. And it does not seem to be that much to argue about.

But with the elections looming, the debate is getting increasingly partisan. Why did not Clinton get at bin Laden? Why hasn't Bush caught him? What has the war in Iraq really meant for the long-term security of the country?

Today Afghan President Karzai pays a visit to the White House. Meanwhile, reports speak about increased fighting primarily in southern Afghanistan, with an Italian soldier killed yesterday.

It's obvious that there is a need to take a hard look at the combined operation in Afghanistan. A new Petersberg conference bringing all of the actors together might well be needed shortly.

Meanwhile, I notice that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has headed off to Montenegro. Nice place, but doesn't feel that central to what's happening at the moment.

New York itself seems to be winding down somewhat from all the stress during the 61st UN General Assembly. Limousines, police cars and blocked roads as the world's leader got here to have their say.

I'll hover over to the UN during the day to pick up the latest gossip. And then it's time for the Swedish-American celebrations in the evening.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The World From New York

As work continues with setting up the new government in Sweden, I'm heading for New York later today.

It's the centennial anniversary of the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce there. Big thing.

I'm there primarily for an interesting seminar on different global trends on Wednesday. Together with Richard Holbrooke I will try to make some sense of what's happening on the global stage.

But then it's back to here rather quickly.

Otherwise this is the week in Europea leading up to the parliamentary elections in Austria and Bosnia that I have written about, as well as the local elections in Hungary in the middle of the turmoil there.

And then there is the Labour Party conference in the UK with the final conference performance of Tony Blair - to be followed by the Conservative conference next week with challenger Cameron.

Next week is not only the week of the formal change in Sweden, but also of important local elections in Georgia as well as the parliamentary elections in Latvia on October 7th.

In the United States the members of Congress have left Washington and gone campaigning for the November mid-term elections. We seem to be witnessing a slight rebounce in the support for the otherwise somewhat beleaugered Bush administration.

There will be a lot to discuss in New York.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

And Bosnia As Well

Well, then there is of course the elections in Bosnia next weekend as well.

I must confess to having been somewhat out of touch with the debate there during the past few weeks.

But prior to that it wasn't too stimulating.

It seemed to me then - it might have changed since - that the trend was that the two old and big nationalist parties - SDA on the Muslim and SDS on the Serb side - was in danger of being outflanked by the more nationalist rhetoric of their main rivals. On the Croat side it's a more confused picture after the splits in the local HDZ party.

SDA is challenged by long-standing challenger Haris Silajdzic. He's been around for ever, and remains as ambitious as ever. But instead of being a man that could help in bridging the divides of Bosnia, I think there is now a risk of him making them worse.

He was one of those instrumental in blocking the attempt earlier this year to modify the Bosnian constitution - advocating an all-or-nothing approach that fits very badly with the realities of Bosnia.

And on the Serb side the story seems to be similar with RS Prime Minister Milorad Dodik talking about an independence referendum for Republika Srpska in order to outflank the classical nationalists in SDS. But these have, under a new leadership, started to sound more responsible than in the past, also on the controversial constitutional issues.

I'm not unduly alarmed, although the build-up of nationalist rhetoric throughout the region at the moment is worth taking note of.

And all my younger friends in Bosnia are saying that they are throughly fed up with a rhetoric that seems to be more looking back to the wat years than forward to the common European future they want.

Choice for Austria

One week after the Swedísh election, and one week until the voters go to the polls in Austria.

You might remember all the fuss that was created after right-wuing FPÖ under Jorg Haider had their success in the autumn 1999 election and eventually was made the coalition partner of centre-right ÖVP under Wolfgang Schuessel.

It was then said that this would open the floodgates to rightist populist parties throughout Europe. Indignation was overflowing selected European capitals.

I never believed in those theories, and thought that Schuessel did the right thing.

Up until then the country had been governed by a larga coalition between the Social Democrats SPÖ and ÖVP. It was seen as big, overpowering, bureucratic and bordering on the corrupt.

And the FPÖ vote was essentially a vote by the young people of Austria for change. You couldn't really vote for ÖVP or SPÖ if you wanted change - there was only FPÖ. And they got nearly 30 % of the vote.

Since then the Schuessel strategy has proved itself.

He has governed successfully - getting a new mandate in the November 2002 elections - and has gradually marginalized Haider to the point that he is now almost completely limited to his regional position in Kärnten.

The election now is a race between ÖVP and SPÖ for position number one, and then it will be a question of coalitions.

At the moment it looks very much as if ÖVP will come out on top. Schuessel is well ahead in opinion polls, and seems to have won the key duel with the SPÖ leader without much of difficulty.

And SPÖ is seriously tarnished by scandals and failure in a bank more or less affiliated with the trade unions it is very close to. Not a niced story.

But to win is one thing - to form a coalition will be another.

At the moment speculation is that Schuessel will have to chose between a coalition with the SPÖ and one with the Greens. My guess is that he would prefer to test the later alternative - with a coalition with SPÖ being the default option.

In either case it will be a significant accomplishment if Wolfgang Schuessel comes out on top in this election as well.

In my opinion there is little doubt that he deserves it. Austria is doing very well under him.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Erzwungene Wege

I don't think there is any exhibition in recent years that has generated so much controversy as the one on expelled people's now open in the Kronprinzenhalle in central Berlin.

I took the opportunity of spending some time at it earlier today.

And I come away convinced that it ought to be shown all over Europe in the years to come.

During the 20th century more than 30 peoples in Europe have more or less lost their right to their own homes. And although it is not easy to estimate how many people have been affected, it is reasonable to talk of between 80 and 100 million people.

That's a huge amount of human suffering.

But there is also the loss of a diversity in important parts of Europe that had been preserved over the centuries. Areas might have become more homogeneous, but Europe as a whole has become a poorer place, even leaving all of the suffering aside.

It's not large, but it's very telling in the facts that it portrays. And the steady stream of people just standing in silence reading, looking at small items or listening at some of the stations were this is possible is impressive.

You can see that it is an exhibition that makes an impression.

For every people that has been forced to flee there are those guilty of having done it, and there is often a complicated story leading up to it. That's why it has been so sensitive to bring up the fate of the millions of Germans expelled from Central Europe in 1945.

Isn't this to seek to "relativize" the crimes of Hitler and the Holocaust? And is it right to even mention the expulsions from Poland after the crimes the Nazis had committed against that nation?

But this isn't the only aspect that has lead to controversy.

There is the perennial debate on whether the mass murders of Armenians in 1915 should be called a genocide or not. Although the facts are generelly recognized, the term is still highly controversial in Turkey.

But there are more sensitive cases shown in moving details in the exhibition.

The expulsion of Finns from Vyborg and Karelia. The expulsion of Italians from Istria and Dalmatia. Or the enormous "exchange" of people between Greece and Turkey after the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.

Not to speak about the ethnic cleansing of the far more recent Balkan wars.

But all this is part of our history, and the exhibition is just presenting the facts without either pointing fingers or judging concerning responsibility. In taking this approach it in fact becomes even stronger.

Well worth a journey to Berlin. That I found it particularly strong perhaps has its background in me having lived through ethnic cleansing and seen the human tragedies.

Let's hope that there will be a wider future for the exhibition.

Merkel Has Spoken

I'm now back in Stockholm after two intense days of different discussions in Berlin.

It was the Bertelsmann Forum which was organized for the 10th time, and which brought together a rather impressive and certainly interesting crowd ranging from Angela Merkel to Henry Kissinger.

And in addition to Merkel there were the Prime Ministers of France, Belgium, Hungary, Latvia and Montenegro.

One of the highlights was the policy speech on European issues delivered yesterday by Chancellor Merkel. It had been preceded by rather extensive discussions on which policy line to take on some controversial issues.

And one of them was clearly the future of enlargement.

Here she come down with a position that is tolerable although not ideal, but which could have been a good deal worse. She did not fall into the dangereous trap of trying to define, once and for all, the borders of Europe.

In effect she said that existing accession negotiations - Croatia and Turkey - should go on, that the rest of the Balkans had a membership perspective, but that one beyond this in the forseeable future should not hold out the membership perspective to anyone.

I don't have the precise text, and I have yet to find it on any of the official websites, but it will come.

In effect this means that membership for Ukraine is off the table for the forseeable future, and since this would only be possible in the longer perspective anyhow, the damage might not be overwhelming. The exact wording made it clear that the door was not closed forever.

She was also rather careful in her position on the future of the Constitutional Treaty. Without repeating past pronouncements that it should be adopted as it is - a rather unrealistic position - she pointed out some of the core issues that a coming treaty must dealt with.

To slim it down to just the most essential institutional provision was not, in her view, sufficient, and she argued for including the section on citizen's rights as well in any new attempt.

Although we might see some movement on this issue already in the Berlin Declaration on the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome in March, she made it clear that it waws only in June - after the French presidential election - that the German Presidency would be prepared to become somewhat more concrete.

A wise line that allows for both reflections and debate in the coming months - although we are already starting to see roughly where the entire discussion is heading.

Congratulations, Estonia!

It is of course profoundly good news that Toomas Ilves has been elected as the new President of Estonia.

At last there is a worthy successor to Lennart Meri. And a person that can proudly project the success of Estonia and the other Baltic states on the wider world stage.

It was long uncertain whether he could make it, but it seems as if campaigning has paid off. And Estonians at the end of the day wanted a modern president they could be proud of.

This is not to say that outgoing president Arnold Ruutel, who was now defeated by Toomas Ilves, hasn't done important services to his country.

With his roots in Soviet Estonia's agriculture and political nomenklatura he played a prominent role -- along with young movement leaders -- in the restoration of Estonia's independence through parliamentary enactments.

And during the 1990's he helped reassure sections of society, including many Russians, that Estonia's independence and aspiration to join NATO and the European Union was good for the country.

He become president in 2001 at the age of 73 and served as a figurehead, though often with dignity. However, not speaking any foreign language other than Russian, he has been at a disadvantage in representing Estonia internationally.

Toomas Ilves represents a more modern, outward looking Estonia.

He has done most things over the years. He has been his country's ambassador in Washington as well as its foreign minister, and is now serving in the European Parliament and on its important Foreign Affairs Committee.

He will easily be the northern European official that moves the most easily around the corridors of the world - at the least its Western parts. And that is of great importance for a country - not the least if its size doesn't automatically give it entry everywhere.

Toomas Ilves is of course to be congratulated, but primarily the congratulations should go to all of Estonia.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Thoughts in Lyon

Well, it was a good meeting with the European Ideas Network here in Lyon.

EIN every years brings together thought and opinion leaders from the centre-right in Europe for a couple of days of brainstorming and provocative discussions.

And I have been invited to speak in Berlin in 2004, in Lisbon in 2005 and here in Lyon in 2007.

But others were here as well. Commission President Barroso delivered a good speech on the agenda of Europe today. Passionate in a way he isn't always.

And I took the opportunity of my speech over dinner - someone has to have that thankless task - of discussing the gathering storms around Europe and the urgent need to strengthen the soft powers of Europe in order to extent our zone of peace and stability.

At a time when there is a lot of discussion on "the borders of Europe" and "absorption capacity" I wanted to highlight what is really at stake if we suddenly decide to shut the doors.

If one door is shut, other doors are opened. That's the way history works. And if we close the door to European integration - however far down the road the ultimate goal might be - then we are opening up the doors to aggressive nationalism of a sort we have seen before.

Then we open the doors to instability at our doorstops - soon to spill over them into us.

I was primarily talking about Serbia, Ukraine and Turkey. These are the "swing states" that I see in the decade ahead. If they are turned away from us, the consequences over wide regions will be profound.

We must engage, engage and engage in order to change and change and change. There are no quick fixes to true peace.

Closing the door to them is to open the doors to new instability.

I'll see if I can post the entire text somewhere.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

From Bosphorous to Rhone

It's early Thursday morning by the Bosphorous, and the great city of Istanbul is waking up.

It's somewhat unclear how many people are actually living here. The city is growing fast. There might be around 20 million people in the urban landscape around the Bosphorous.

And it is indeed one of the greatest of European cities.

Thick with history and bustling with life. The ships from and to the Black Sea ports passing constantly, while the minarets of Sinan's fabolous mosques are pointing towards the sky. The airport is filled with aircrafts heading also for desttinations all over Central Asia.

I was here for a dinner yesterday evening discussing the future of Turkish business in the European Union.

There is a slight pessimism concerning the accession process. The Cyprus issue risks causing a train wreck in the months ahead if nothing is done. Words of rejection from different European politicians have certainly been noted here, and are playing into the hands of more hard-line nationalist politicians.

But history seldom moves in a completely linear fashion. It always has its ups and down and bumbs in the road.

It might be ten years down the road when we arrive at the final decision concerning the membership of Turkey. It will be another European Union by then, and it will also be another Turkey.

But if we have a clear interest in Turkish membership today, I'm convinced that we will have an even clearer interest a decade or so down the road. It's geostrategic importance will certainly not decline.

But now I'm off to Lyon by the river Rhone in France. Once the capital of the Gaul of the Romans, and then a trading and fair city of European importance. Now the second largest city of France and its gastronomical capital.

So I take the Turkish Airlines non-stop flight from Istanbul to Lyon to speak there about the challenges facing Europe in the years ahead.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

European Journeys

As the transition process in Sweden gets underway, I'm heading off to other European countries for different discussions.

Tomorrow I'm off to Istanbul for a dinner and discussion on the future of Turkish business in the European Union.

I do expect the Turkish economy to be one of the more vibrant and dynamic in the years ahead, and it will have to make its voice heard also in Brussels on different issues of concerns.

From Istanbul I'm heading off on Thursday to Lyon in France for the annual summer meeting of the European Ideas Network.

It's the annual intellectual brainstorming linked to the centre-right EPP-EDG group in the European Parliament. And I'm joining a list of speakers that also includes European Commission President Barroso and French presidential contender Sarkozy.

And from Lyon I'm heading Friday to Berlin for the Bertelsmann International Forum, where my task is to discuss whether we are on the verge of a failure for the combined Western policies from the Middle East to the Hindu Kush.

I fear that's a very relevant question - although the answer might not be immediately obvious.

And from there I'm heading home to Stockholm again, where the hand-over preparations should by then have proceeded a fair bit.

Hungarian Revolt

Just as preparations are gearing up for the commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the 1956 freedom revolution in Hungary and its brutal repression by Soviet forces there is another rebellion brewing in Budapest.

The words used by Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany when he described Socialist election tactics at an internal meeting are indeed extraordinary.

He said that the government had been lying day and night in order to win the election and remain in power. And there is indeed a stark contrast between the rosy picture presented before the election and the brutal realities of not least a disastrous situation in the public finances.

While this is no excuse for violence in the streets, it is hardly surprising that there are strong reactions.

In a broader sense we can see what is now happening as a sign that some of the easier days in the transition in Central Europe are now over.

High levels of expenditure have been financed by income from privatizations, and when this is no longer possible to the same extent as before, the task of tackling the growing deficits becomes more difficult.

I have been writing here before about the Hungarian situation, warning that it might be heading for a very difficult situation. The Prime Ministers remarks and the violent reactions they have caused have now accelerated that development.

And there is only one way of relieving the situation.

To tell the thruth - and stop lying.

And to undertake the harsh budget cut-backs necessary.

Monday, September 18, 2006

New Beginning for Sweden

I had a very late evening - I left the celebrations with Fredrik Reinfeldt at nearly 3 a m.

And now it's an early morning - off to the TV studios again to try to comment on what's happening.

The Swedish election gave the result that was in the air during the last few weeks. A rather resounding victory for the centre-right alliance, which will now give Sweden its first majority government since 1981.

The Moderate Party under Fredrik Reinfeldt not only did its best election since 1928, but also the best election result of any non-socialist party in modern times, narrowly beating the record set by the Centre party in the 1973 election.

And for the Social Democrats it was their worst election result since 1914 - before the introduction of universal suffrage in Sweden.

Prime Minister Persson immediately announced that he will step down also as leader of the party at an extraordinary congress likely in the beginning of next year. He looked positively happy as he made the announcement.

While previous non-socialist governments that took over in 1976 and in 1991 did so under rather difficult economic circumstances - in 1991 Sweden was losing 1 000 jobs a day and the government deficit was increasing by a billion crowns a week - the situation now is very different.

This is an immediate advantage, but also harbours the risk that the pressure for change will be less than it perhaps ought to be. As numerous international studies have pointed out, there is a need for deep structural reforms in important part of the economy of the country.

But further comments on this will have to await further developmnents.

Today Prime Minister Persson hands in his resignation, although he will be asked to remain in a caretaker position. As the new Riksdag convenes on October 3rd, the formal process of forming the new government will begin, with the actual transfer of power likely to happen on Friday October 6th.

That will be the true new beginning for Sweden.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Elections Tomorrow

Tomorrow is election day in Sweden, Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

And in addition there is some sort of referendum in Trans-Dniester. Not much of an election, but still worth noting.

The Swedísh election is increasingly likely to result in Prime Minister Persson being replaced by Prime Minister Reinfeldt leading a four-party centre-right coalition.

All opinion polls this morning gives a lead to the centre-right.

That might be less important than the fact that the momentum we have seen during the last few days have been moving in that direction. That it will change before the polling stations close at 8 p.m. tomorrow is unlikely.

Today is the last day of campaign - in the wonderful late summer sun of September. Most party leaders will try to be both in Stockholm and in some other part of Sweden - with the 2nd largest city Göteborg the obviously most popular destination.

The final TV debate yesterday evening went well for the centre-right Alliance, with Prime Minister Persson failing to make the break-through that he so desperately needed. But he reluctantly had to accept that he is dependent for his future on the Communists - yes, the leader of the leftist party calls himself communist - and the Greens.

And this only added to the uncertainty concerning his policies for the future.

But there is also so called Senate elections in Berlin tomorrow. And they seem less likely to result in a change.

Berlin is run by an odd red-red coalition between the Social Democrats SPD and the ex-Communist of PDS. And this is now challenged by the CDU and its main candidate Friedbert Pflueger.

But he's up against a rather solid majority supported also by all the old ex-Communist buraucrats still living in the Eastern parts of the now reunified Berlin.

His aim is probably to make a decent election, showing that the CDU is a force to be reckoned with, establishing himself as a Berliner and then aim for the next elections. Politics is a long-term business.

There is also elections in the Land of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in northern Germany, which is the only other place in Germany run by red-red coalitions.

Here the prospects are for more of change, with an increase in the support of the CDU, and perhaps a great coalition as a result.

Together, these two elections will give some indications of how the political winds are blowing in the country.

The thing in Trans-Dniester - the break-away Russian statelet in Moldova - isn't really much to comment on. The result is easily orchestrated by the authorities.

The only relevant question is how the Kremlin will decide to play it. But that has almost nothing with democratic elections to do.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Red Green Mess

I'm back in Stockholm after a couple of days that have taken me from Geneva to Haugesund in Norway and from there to Tbilisi in Georgia as well as to Brussels for different discussions.

But now it's two days of making some additional contributions to the campaign before the election here in Sweden on Sunday.

The opinion polls are showing a very tight race, although it is my distinct impression that the momentum at the moment is more with the centre-right alliance parties.

They evidently carried the day in the first of the two major final TV debates yesterday. What happens in the second one tonight will obviously be of major importance.

By acting together as they have done, they have really turned the tables in the debate about how to govern Sweden.

They are seen as a united alternative, while there are increasing tensions on the Left.

It's becoming increasingly clear that a continuation of a Social Democratic minority government simply isn't possible, and that there in all probability will have to be a formal coalition that includes the Green Party and the ex-Communists. But that's an alternative profoundly detested by many Social Democrats, and what sort of policies would actually emerge out of such a government is very unclear.

So on Sunday there is a choice between one reasonably clear majority government alternative of the centre-right, and some sort of red-green mess if the majority ends up on their side.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Good News - For Once?

It is not that usual with days when good pieces of news are coming out of the Middle East.

But yesterday seems to have been such a day.

There now seems to be some sort of agreement to set up a new coalition government in the Palestinian Athority.

It means that Hamas will share power with Fatah - something Hamas offer before, but Fatah then refused.

One of the basis for the new government is the so called prisoners document drafted by key Palestinians in Israeli jails. This document contains an implicit recognition of Israel, and seems now to have been accepted by Hamas.

This is undoubtedly an important step forward. The key question is now whether it will lead the Israelis and the US to lift their different sanctions against the Palestinian government.

I take it for granted that the EU will do it - this is very much in line with what's been discussed in EU policy circiles for some time. There has been distinct unhappiness over the policy one was more or less forced into after the Hamas election victory earlier this year.

If all of this happens, it will certainly not sort out all of the problems of the area. Very far from it. But it might have the highly important effect of stopping a further deterioation of the situation.

By the standards of these problematic days, that must be called progress.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Five Years Later

On September 11 five years ago I was standing at Potzdamer Platz in Berlin explaining to a friend the tremendous changes there since the wall through Berlin had come down.

Suddenly there was a call from a friend in the UN building in New York. He had just from his room seen the second plane crash into the World Trade Center.

To me it was immediately obvious that al-Qaeda had succeeded. No other network had the resources to plan and execute an attack of this magnitude. And within minutes it was clear that a plane had also struck Pentagon.

The United States immediately declared itself at war, and to a large extent remain in that state today, with the Pentagon now talking about "a long war" and the President lately defining the enemy as "Islamic fascists".

As the Taleban regime in Afghanistan was protecting Usama bin Laden and the core of the al-Qaeda network, the attack to unseat the regime there was unavoidable. It was undertaken by the US, but it had the broad support of the United Nations.

That attack succeeded in liberating Afghanistan from the Talibans, but at the battle of Tora Bora Usama bin Laden and his core group managed to escape over the mountains. Since some years back it seems that virtually all traces of him has disappeared, although he delivers his videos and messages from his remote hideout.

But the core al-Qaeda organisation has been severely damaged since then. Although what is still there is likely to continue to plan large-scale attacks, its capabilities are severly reduced.

Today, it is more a symbol and an ideological inspiration for other groups, some of them originally helped by al-Qaeda, but many also new creations during the last few years taking the ideological lead from the fundamentalism from the mountain hideout.

Today, Usama bin Laden's most powerful weapon might be his videos and messages as he continues to evade capture.

In the last few years we have seen Europe coming into focus in a way that was not the case five years ago. Although the September 11 group had its origins in Hamburg, we have since them been made aware of the risk of terrorism being bred in the margins of the second- or third-generation immigrant communities in Europe. And their targets tend to be targets in our part of the world.

The fight against this terrorism isn't really a war in the classical sense. There is no clear beginning and end, there is no clear enemy and military instruments are certainly not the key when it comes to winning the battle. That they have declared war against us is no reason for us to elevate them to that level.

We still require to reinforce police and intelligence cooperation, and that is done as we are learning more and more.

But at the end of the day we are talking about a battle between values and ideas that to a large extent will have to be fought out within the society and culture of Islam. On our side, we must move ahead more desively with more genuine attempts to address some of the root causes that are leading young men into terrorism, be that different situations in the Middle East or the cultural alientation in the secular societies of Western Europe.

The greatest danger at the moment is hardly the one or the other terrorist attack - they will come - but that reactions to them - by supporters or those frightened into different reactions - will lead us into a more fundamental clash of civilisations. In this context, I fail to see that the designation "Islamic fascists" is particularly helpful.

We shall always be clear that what Usama bin Laden really seeks is such a more fundamental conflict, which would increase the possibility of the groups that he seeks to inspire to recruit and to attack. That is one of the reasonbs why we should be careful in the extreme not to let things slide into a direction that long-term plays into his hands.

Five years after September 11, I would guess that the assessment he is making in his cave is that while his al-Qaeda has been severly beaten, a number of events have inspired new although significantly less competent organisations, while tendencies towards a clash of civilisations have gradually become more pronounced.

The next five years must be different. Otherwise the risk of a really serious development is very clearly there.

Good Debate - But Very Dangereous Position

To start with the positive, it is of course a good thing that Nicolas Sarkozy goes to Brussels and gives a major speech on his vision for Europe.

Apart from the IHT summary, there is also the complete text available in French.

Too many politicians in too many countries are too silent on the challenges on the European scene that they will face in the years to come.

So Sarkozy should be praised for this, as well as for his thoughts on how to handle the institutional issues ahead.

Much in line with what's been discussed here before, he declared the old constitutional treaty dead, and instead wants to start discussion on a more limited treaty of institutional reform.

That's a far more realistic approach, although some of his proposals might not necessarily be acceptable yet. But it's a good start to a necessary debate.

Another issue - but I leave commenting on that one until later - is whether a Britain under a Prime Minister Brown would be ready to go along with anything.

But where I profoundly disagree is his call for the suspension of membership negotiations with Turkey. He wants to restrict membership to countries on the continent of Europe, although it's not clear if he wants to expell Cyprus with its position off the coast of Lebanon.

I'm not certain how that suspension would work. France can always block any progress in the talks, but to get the Union to officially suspend the talks is another matter, and would be bitterly opposed by a number of member states. It could easily descend into a very nasty and very damaging debate.

The last few months should have demonstrated anew the geostrategic importance of Turkey. Apart from the importance of facilitating and anchoring the continued democratic and secular reform path of Turkey, I don't think Europe can afford to have a rejected, disillusioned and bitter Turkey as its neighbour.

It's also very easy to see other consequences. Cyprus is likely to be divided for ever. And efforts to handle the Kurdish issue will be far more difficult, perhaps making a slide into an open conflict, that could also start unravelling a lot of the reforms of Turkey.

And it's highly likely that a Turkey rejected by Europe will move towards more of a relationship with a Russia that will then have new geostrategic opportunities, also in blocking part of the energy diversification of Europe.

It's high time for those really caring for the strategic position of Europe in the decades ahead to speak up in the debate.

The Sarkozy position is a position taking us to conflict - inside the Union, but more importantly along some of its most critical borders.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

IISS Global Strategic Review

Geneva this weekend is the site for the big Global Strategic Review conference organized by the International Institite for Strategic Studies.

And being a member of the Council of the IISS I'm here, and also have to speak about peacekeeping and stability operations in one of the sessions today.

But we started yesterday evening by listening to a speech by Sheik Humam Hamoudi, who is Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Baghdad and was a key man in negotiating the constitition of the country.

His assessment of Iraq was not without its problematic sides, but basically positive. He categorically ruled out dividing the country, although it was interesting to note that he believed US policy was drifting in that direction. And he saw the centralized control of oil revenues as the key means to assure that this did not happen.

Security would improve over time, he thought, as Iraqis saw that they are now truly governing themselves. But he complained somewhat that US and Iraqi priorities are somewhat different, with him stressing the need to improve basic services, while he said the US was more focused omn fighting the different militias.

Today we continue the discussion with listening to more of those actually doing things in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

As we approach the fifth anniversary of 9/11, all know that success or failure in Iraq and Afganistan will have profound implications for the future of the entire region.