Friday, June 24, 2005

Towards a Nerveous Balkans

In the next few days, I'm "re-basing" to the coast of Dalmatia in Croatia for parts of the summer. The intensity of the blogging might well suffer somewhat from the warmth of the Mediterranean summer.

It's a nerveous Balkans I'm coming to. In spite of official efforts to keep a good face, there is a deep unease over what might be happening with the process of enlargement of the European Union and how it will affect their futures.

Croatia is eagerly waiting for the possibility to start its accession negotiations, but so far failure to cooperate completely with the UN tribunal in the case of Croat general Gotovina indicted for war crimes in connection with the so called Operation Storm in August 1995 has held up progress.

The issue will be on the agenda when the EU foreign ministers meet in mid-July for their last meeting until October. If there hasn't been enough progress until then, there is a severe risk that the beginning of the Croat negotiations will slip until after the scheduled beginning of the talks for Turkey on October 3rd.

That would obviously put Croatia in a difficult position, and one can only hope that the steps will be taken that avoids this. The decision is primarily in the hands of Zagreb.

In Bosnia, much is at the moment centered on the 10th anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica on July 11th. Boris Tadic - President of Serbia - has been invited and will be among coming those coming for the commemorations.

But in this rather emotional climate, the country also has to come together for important reform decisions. Political tensions have heated up lately, with the Prime Minister dismissing the Foreign Minister for reasons that really had nothing with his job or his politics to do.

And this autumn, we will see the 10 year anniversary of the Dayton Peace agreement. I will have reason to come back to that more than once during the rest of the year.

In Serbia, expectations are increasing that one - the one way or the other - will be able to deliver also general Mladic - undoubtedly responsible for the massacre following the fall of Srebrenica - to the UN tribunal. This would create a good climate for the negotiations starting this autumn for a Stabilisation and Assocation Agreement with the European Union.

But it's next year that will be critical. Important issues en masse will be on the table. The status of Kosovo perhaps most difficult, but also the future of the state union between Serbia and Montenegro. And at some time during the year there will be a major EU conference to take decision on its future policies in the region, not least the enlargement perspective.

On Kosovo, the Ambassador of Norway Kai Eide has now been asked by the UN to assess how far one has come in fulfilling certain standards, notably in respect of minorities and other key democratic principles. His task is not an easy one, and I don't expect that we will hear much from him until September or so. He's a competent man with an integrity that can hardly be questioned.

Also this is an issue I'm likely to have reason to return to.

In Albania, the campaign for the July 3rd parliamentary elections is now entering its final phase. It will be crucial to see if the country can really run a free and fair election - the previous ones have been marked by irregularities and fraud - and possibly also a democratic and orderly transfer of power. Albania is the only country in the region which has not yet managed an orderly democratic change from one government to another.

And finally Macedonia - or the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as the official EU and UN designation still is. Here, one is awaiting the opinion of the European Commission on its application for EU membership. It's excepted during the autumn. In all probability, the EU will then take its decision in some sort of combination with the other Balkan decisions expected during next year.

There will be much to discuss around the dinner tables in Dalmatia during the next few weeks. The coming twelwe months or so will be of critical importance for the region.

And the region is of critical importance for the future of Europe.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Forgotten Conflicts

Online Magazine - Civil Georgia

Four days in Georgia gave ample opportunity to look into the frozen and forgotten conflicts of this region.

In Abkhazia we had the possibility of conducting extensive talks with the leadership of this break-away part of Georgia that operates under the semi-protection of Russia and with a UN observer mission present.

But we were not welcome in the other break-away area of South Ossetia. No particular reason was given, but there is no doubt that tensions have been increasing lately. There are fears that there will be a repeat of the outbreak of some fighting that occured last summer.

For a Georgia firm on the course towards political and economic reforms these conflicts are of course a major political burden. Tbilisi does not control not insignificant parts of the recognized territory of its country.

While Russia in principle supports the territorial integrity of Georgia, there is no doubt that active support is given to both the break-away regions. Not all of this is necessarily with the sanction of official bodies in Moscow. The element of smuggling and freelancing of different sort is obvious.

Although Russia has a key to the resolution of the conflicts, Georgia must also play its part, and I was impressed by the moderate and constructive approach taken by those dealing with these issues in Tbilisi.

That's a change from the past. There is no doubt that nationalist forces and ferment in Georgia in the early 1990's was a key factor that ignited the acute face of both these conflicts. Now, the mistakes are generally recognized, although suspicions against Tblisi are still running high in Abkhazia and Ossetia.

Europe must certainly involve itself more in the search for a resolution to these conflicts.

Northern Caucasus looks more fragile by the day. Only Putin can believe that the Chechen issue is off the radar screen, and near-by Dagestan with its ethnic mix and strong Islamic beliefs might well be the next big issue.

Not the least in view of this, it is critical that the stability of Southern Caucasus is preserved and strengthened.

Blair Launches Europe Debate

In his speech to the European Parliament today, UK Prime Minster Tony Blair sought to initiate a more wide-ranging debate about where Europe is heading.

The result of the French and Dutch referendums have, in his view, little with the actual text of the Constituitional Treaty to do. Instead, they signal "a wider and deeper discontent with the state of affairs in Europe."

Then, it is not a crisis of political institutions, but a crisis of political leadership.

"People in Europe are posing hard questions to us. They worry about globalisation, job security, about pensions and living standards. They see not just their economy but their society changing around them. Traditional communities are broken up, ethnic patterns change, family life is under strain as families struggle to balance work and home. We are living through an era of profound upheaval and change."

Then, leadership must be given. "When such change occurs, moderate people must give leadership. If they don't, the extremes gain traction in the political process. It happens within a nation. It is happening in Europe now."

The Blair vision of Europe is certainly not without its critics, as has been obvious during the last few days. But its a vision with a clarity and relevance in this age of accelerating globalisation that few others so far have managed to demonstrate.

I - for one - find much to like in what he has to say.

Saturday, June 18, 2005


Technology News Article |

You have probably already seen it, but here is one of the news stories on Microsoft's decision to ban words like "democracy" and "freedom" on its new MSC China Internet service.

Comment hardly necessary. Some thinks just speak for themselves.

Off to the Frozen Conflicts

ethnocaucasus.jpg (JPEG Image, 984x1144 pixels) - Scaled (50%)

The next few days will probably not see me doing much in terms of postings on this site.

I'm off for four days in Georgia in the Southern Caucasus to lead a study tour with special emphasis on some of the so called frozen conflicts of the region.

We'll be going both to the break-away Abkazia region on the Black Sea coast and the equally break-away minded area of Southern Ossetia towards the Caucasus mountain range.

The Caucasus is an area with an ethnic, national and religious diversity that makes the Balkans look perfectly boring by comparisons. Here, the break-up of the Soviet Union lead to a series of national conflicts, the majority of which have since then been just "frozen" without much of a solution in sight.

In Northern Caucasus, the conflict in Chechnya in Russia is of course far from "frozen". In nearby and most important Dagestan, reports point at tensions being on the increase.

And to the South of the impressive mountain range there are the "frozen conflicts" of Abkazia and South Ossetia in Georgia as well as at Armenian-controlled region of Nagorno Karabagh in Azerbaijan.

All of them have the potential to destabilize a wider region if they flare up again. Sooner or later there will have to be a political settlement representing a compromise between the different designs and dreams.

The sooner the better. With both Moscow - for obvious reasons - and Washington taking a keen interest in the area it has aquired a new importance also on the global scene.

Sunday evening we start our trip with dinner in Tibilisi with the President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili. And Thursday mid-day I hope to be back in Stockholm again.

Waiting for Angela

conseil.pdf (application/pdf Object)

As expected, the European Council did not reach an agreement on the 2007 - 2013 budget for the European Union.

In itself, this is neither a surprise nor in itself a crisis. A few months ago, no one really expected even a chance of a deal already at this meeting. And there is ample time before 2007 to take the crucial decisions.

Indeed, the soap opera of budget battles is an integral part of the five-year routine of European integration. This time, there was for the first time the need to reach agreement between no less than 25 member countries - five years ago it was "only" 15 that had to agree.

If there is somewhat more of a crisis its due to the acrimonious words exchanged between some of the leaders after the meeting. It seems as if Luxembourg chairman Jean-Claude Juncker deliberately played in order to get UK Prime Minister Tony Blair into a corner, then to blame him for the failure.

These things happen. I vividly remember the high tensions around the European Council meeting in Corfu in June 1994 as the then twelwe Prime Ministers and Presidents - with some observers like myself - failed to reach agreement on a new President of the European Commission. I can testify that the mood around the dinner table during the discussions that evening was anything but good.

But it passed. A couple of months later a solution was found, and the common interest in moving forward prevailed.

The same is likely to happen now. As Peter Mandelson in the European Commission noted, there "will be many of us working hard to make sure that there's a proper debate and that Europe and its budget emerges, not unscathed, but in a better, improved form."

There are positive things that should be noted.

The ten new member countries demonstrated a commitment to the European Union that put the money bickering of some of the older ones to shame. As the PM of Poland Marek Belka noted after the discussions, "nobody will be able to say that for Poland, the European Union is just a pile of money."

Obviously, there were others that saw it mostly as "a pile of money".

This will undoubtedly influence the debate in the months ahead.

Now, the torch will pass from Luxembourg to the successive presidencies of the United Kingdom, Austria and Finland. In a formal sense, the political focus will shift from Luxembourg to London, Vienna and Helsinki.

But the real attention shift is likely to be to Berlin. With an election likely on September 18th, it is highly likely that the German Chancellor at the next European Council meeting will be the CDU leader Angela Merkel.

It's new signals from a new leadership in Berlin that is likely to create new openings and perhaps even a new impetus for the process of European integration.

Europe is waiting for Angela.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Mideast Words to Act On

From Bush, Mideast Words to Act On: "All of his ambitious and valuable goals in the Middle East would be helped immeasurably by a successful conclusion of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations."

Zbibniew Brzezinski is one of the most experiences observers of international affairs since decades back. His voice is always worth listening to.

In the midst of the new gloom about Iraq, he throws the spotlight on the challenges ahead in the Middle East peace process, and rightly points at the link between these and the wider aims of democracy and freedom in the region that President Bush has proclaimed.

"All of his ambitious and valuable goals in the Middle East would be helped immeasurably by a successful conclusion of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations."

Towards the end of the year - after the Palestinian parliamentary election as well as the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza - that's where the attention should be.

From Russia with Love

During the past two weeks, I have spent some time in Moscow on two different occasions, meeting and discussing with a very wide range of different personalities.

It was in many ways Moscow at its very best. Early summer temperatures, the city bustling with energy, the green trees almost everywhere and new buildings in different shapes and formes continuing to come up.

But the politics of Russia seems to be drifting. If the Putin regime in its first term was widely seen as having brought stability, it is now more seen as bringing stagnation. With very few exceptions the reform process has stagnated, and it looks as if the Kremlin crowd is more interested in grabbing richess for itself than in reforming Russia.

The regime is, some claim, seriously afraid of coming social and political instability, and in such a situation it doesn't dare to do anything in terms of changes.

The economy is growing by more than 5 % this year, which is a very respectable number.

The problem is that it's well below the 7 - 8 % target seen as necessary in order to meet other targets, and that there are signs of growth slackening even further in the years ahead. Everyone is consuming - but most expect that the consumption boom can't be sustained forever. And investment are actually declining rather than growing in spite of the huge investment needs everywhere.

Everyone speaks of nationalist sentiments of different sorts growing stronger, and there are certainly signs that the ultra-nationalist groups to some extent furthered by the Kremlin during the last Duma election could emerge as a serious alternative in the post-2008 timeframe.

The positive is that in spite of all this young Russians all over the country are trying to break loose from the old, setting up new enterprises and taking different initiatives. Day by day there is a strengthening of the social foundations for a Russia much more modern and much more outward-looking than the old.

The question is only if these forces and tendencies will grow sufficiently fast to overcome the nationalist and authoritarian sentiments that are also on the rise. With the Putin regime having entered its phase of stagnation and eventual decline, it's to the post-Putin period we will have to look for an answer.

And Now for the Debate

DR Nyheder Online - EU - Den danske EU-afstemning udskydes

As expected and predicted - not the least here - the European Council decided to put the ratification of the Constitutional Treaty on ice, thus de facto saying it will never come into force in the present form or shape.

For Denmark, PM Fogh Rasmussen decided that the referendum planned for September 27 will not take place.

That was the only possible decision - in spite of all the contrary talks during the past two weeks.

Now, it seems as these discussions will not be taken up in earnest until after the presidential election in France and the parliamentary election in the Netherlands in 2007. That's also perfectly logical and sound.

In the meantime, there must be a pan-European debate on where we are heading. Too many might have rushed too fast into the European Convention that produced this Constitutional Treaty. That mistake must not be repeated.

The issues must be integrated into the national debates in a way that has not been the case so far. In Sweden, this means that the European issues will have to figure prominently in the campaign for the September 2006 parliamentary elections.

All in all not too bad.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Budget Blues

The long-term budget for 2007 - 2013 will be in focus at the European Council starting in Brussels today. There will be talk of a serious crisis.

And that will be right. But we should remember that these long-term budgets have always been decided after a political wrangling that has lead to talk about crisis.

There is also time. This budget goes into effect a year and a half from now. A decision now would be good, but a decision later during this time-span would be OK as well.

The present 2000 - 2006 budget was agreed on after a major - but now largely forgotten - crisis. It was only three quarters of a year before it come into effect that an agreement was finally reached.

It might well be the same this time. And some years down the road this budget crisis might well be as forgotten as the one that preceded the present budget already is.

Not Looking Good

Thomas L. Friedman: Let's talk about Iraq - Editorials & Commentary - International Herald Tribune

Immediately after the election and the rather belated formation of a new government in Iraq, there was the hope that the security situation was going to improve and politics take over.

Now, a couple of months later, it doesn't really look like that.

The security situation in parts of the country remains difficult. Donald Rumsfeld recently said that the situation now was roughly the same as immediately after the fall of the Saddam regime. And it's obvious that part of the insurgents are getting more sophisticated in their different attacks. The surge in car bombings and coordinated attacks point in this direction.

The political process moves very slowly. There is still no agreement on bringing more Sunnis into the work to draft the new constitution. That this work will be completed in time is now virtually out of question. The transitional law has the option for a six-month extension, and this will most certainly have to be used.

When the British had to fight an insurgency in Iraq in the early 1920's they had roughly as many troops in the country as the United States has now. It wasn't easy, but they defeated the insurgency and established stability.

The problem is that since then the population of Iraq has increased by a factor of seventeen. Thus, the ratio of troops to population is now a seventeenth of what it was then. That's much, much too little.

At the same time it's evident that the US armed forces are feeling the strain of these extended deployments to Iraq. The US today is a distinctly weak military power in terms of ground forces - both in Iraq and elsewhere.

Is there an alternative course available?

If there is, it's hard to see. To allow Iraq to descend into anarchy as a consequence of a hasty withdrawal would be profoundly dangereous.

There would be a civil war in Iraq that would rapidly draw in its neighbours in different ways, and there would be a new generation of committed, experienced and victorious terrorists starting to spread across the world.

There is no alternative but staying the course. But that might require a more broadly-based political strategy both in terms of its international base and in terms of its domestic constituencies. And this must be combined with a continued and heavy international military presence essentially dominated by the United States.

All of which must work with a time perspective that stretches many years into the future.

Not too easy to sell to electorates expecting quick results. But there really is no decent alternative.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Appeal for the Balkans / Europe - EU asked not to abandon Balkans enlargement

The Financial Times today is today reporting on the open letter that former Italian PM Amata, former Belgian PM Dehane, former German President von Weizsäcker and myself are sending to the forthcoming European summit in Brussels.

We urge them not to close down that beacon on enlargement that the states in transition in the Balkans are sailing by. If the light of this beacon starts to fade, or is closed down altogether, there is a serious risk that they will sail aground, and that perhaps even their entire effort at reform, reconciliation and reintegration will sink.

If this happens, all of Europe would suffer the consequences.

That's why we urge the heads of state and government meeting in Brussels to send a strong signal that the door is still open and the road to membership in the European Union still there.

Supporting Russia's Future

Фонд "Новая Евразия" | New Eurasia Foundation

It's fifteen years since Russia declared its independence from the Soviet Union, thus making its break with a past of oppression and decline.

Developments since then have - as we know - been dramatic and not always straightforward.

Today, I'm in Moscow attending a meeting of the Board of Directors of the New Eurasia Foundation. It's a unique partnership seeking to support the future of Russia.

This year, we hope to be able to give help in the order of 8 million dollars to different activities in different parts of Russia. It's a question of helping the development of small and medium-size enterprises, of developing different social initiatives and in general terms to further the development of civil society throughout the vast country.

There are obvious problems. The central bureaucracy is scared. The governance of Russia works increasingly badly. There is a certain amount of suspicions against both foreigners and civil society.

But we will move on. The future of Russia is not its bureaucracy - in those terms it's still a superpower! - but the quality and ambitions of its citizens.

To help in developing and furthering those qualities and ambitions is to help in the building of a better future for Russia.

That's well spent days in a summerlike Moscow.

Confessions of a Euro-skeptic

There is certainly plenty of Euro-gloom around these days. But I continue to be among those that see far more of opportunities than of problems in the present situation.

I was surprised to see that there are some card-carrying Euro-skeptics that seems to share this view. The chief economist of Morgan Stanley Stephen Roach proudly proclaims himself to be in this category.

But in a report the last few days, his tone is a somewhat different one

His assessment is that the – at least temporary – demise of the Constitutional Treaty now gives Europe the time to “focus its energies on the sad state of its economy. That gives Europe a much cleaner shot at the heavy lifting of structural change and productivity enhancement.

When looking at Europe, he notes what’s happening on the corporate level:

I suspect that too much is being made of the success or failure of Europe’s government-sponsored reform initiatives. The US experience tells us that private-sector corporate restructuring is the main agent of change. This has also been the case in Japan in recent years, and is now the case in Germany, especially in Japan.

And this is what is now gathering speed throughout the European economies. And in much the same way as I have been doing in speeches and articles he points at the restructuring underway on the corporate level in the German economy. That, he says, might well be the key to what’s happening in Europe at the moment.

Present figures for the European economy are problematic. But that’s not the point, he says.

The real case for Europe lies beyond the business cycle. It is first, and foremost, a productivity story – one driven by the potentially powerful combination of IT-enabled capital deepening and improved labor market flexibility. Our research analysts corroborate a broad-based pick-up of IT spending by Corporate Europe – a belated catch-up to the late-1990’s trend that swept through Corporate America.

And on all of these issues the present convulsions of the Constitutional Treaty don’t make much of a difference. It’s the combination of the single currency and the single market that makes the difference in forcing an acceleration of corporate restructuring. To which should be added, in my view, the effects of enlargement and globalisation in general.

From the standpoint of economic performance, a single currency, a uniform interest rate, and the pan-regional harmonization of taxes, pricing, and regulatory conventions count for a good deal more than agreement on constitution rights.

Those are the words of a professed Euro-skeptic from the other side of the Atlantic. He sees opportunities, change and improvement in Europe of today.

And I believe that he’s certainly more right than wrong.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Slow and steady

Europe, slow and steady - Editorials & Commentary - International Herald Tribune

Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt isn't too agitated about the alleged crisis in the European Union at the moment.

He sees integration moving forward, slowly and steadily, as their is an increasing realisation that the nation states of Europe are too small for the big challenges ahead.

But it will be necessary for political leaders to deal with the issues that are now concerning the electorates throughout Europe.

"Currently, the most important aspect of the illness is clearly high unemployment. Anyone who examines its origins will see that it is only in the smallest part due to any failings in the EU, in no way due to the euro and hardly at all to globalization, but rather to failures within the member states. That applies for employment-market and wage policies, for some extravagances in welfare and social policy, and for economic overregulation."

That's the way it is. National policies often needs to be changed.

And the EU can be a great help in that regard

Get Priorities Right!

The Scientist :: EU science budget threatened , Jun. 8, 2005

In the wrestling match over the EU budget for 2007 - 2013 now going on, there is a very serious risk that priorities will be put upside down.

In its proposal, the Commission has recommended a doubling of spending on research. This is a rather natural consequence of both the global competition in excellence and the policy commitments made at various European meetings over the past few years.

But there is now a serious risk that the increase will be cut back very substantially.

It will be hit be the combination of French reluctance to cut further agricultural spending and resistance from six states - Sweden among them - to agree to any increase in spending at all.

A Luxembourg compromise might then be that the French get their agricultural subsidies and the reluctant Swedes and others get their restrictions on any increases.

By definition, what will then be cut is the big increase in research that the Commission has proposed. In the different compromise packages on the table at the present, the cuts in the Commission proposal are between 69 % and 45 %.

Not good - to put it very mildly.

A Europe that wants to succeed must have its priorities right.

Now there is a serious risk that it gets them seriously wrong.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Week of Brussels Drama

Berlingske Tidende

These are critical days ahead of the critical meeting of the European Council in Brussels on Thursday and Friday of this week. It will be one of the more difficult meetings for a long time. Evidently there are plans for continuing into the Saturday as well.

First, there is the necessity to say something about the continuation of the process of ratification of the Constitutional Treaty.

Second, there will be an attempt to reach agreement on the budget for the EU for the years 2007 until 2013.

Neither subject is particularly easy. And the mood isn't the best.

On the first, it's obvious that nearly everyone understands that there has to be some sort of pause for reflection and debate, and that just pressing on is likely to be seen as an expression of the arrogance of the elites.

It's a question of the future of the referendums planned in the months ahead. The UK one has already been shelved.

Jean-Claude Juncker obviously intends to have his referendum in Luxembourg on July 10. But in a move that displays how difficult the situation has become he has said that he will resign if there is a No result.

Thus, he transforms the referendum into a referendum on himself rather than on the Constitutional Treaty. It might just work - but it also reduces the impact of the Yes vote he might achieve.

Second in line is Denmark with its planned referendum on September 27.

Here, a clear Yes majority in the opinion polls have been transformed into a clear No majority. And there are grave doubts on whether voters will even show up at the polling station to answer a question of very dubious relevance.

Danish PM Fogh Rasmussen intends to ask his French and Dutch colleauges to say in writing that they will never seek any changes to the existing draft Constitutional Treaty. Only then, he reasons, can he go to the Danish electorate and ask them to say either Yes or No.

Of course he knows that it's highly unlikely that he will get this written assurance. Would it be possible for Chirac to return to Paris and Balkenende to return to the Hague having signed such a document? Hardly.

And without this, it seems likely that the planned Danish referendum will go to the way of the UK referendum. It will be put on ice for the foreseeable future. And then the Polish referendum also planned for September will suffer the same temporary fate.

And that means the effective end of the ratiification process at the moment.

The question is what to do instead.

Can one recall the European Convention that produced the draft for the Constitutional Treaty and ask them to at the least discuss the issue?

Or set up a new similar body after a while to stimulate a more far-reaching discussion on these issues?

Or is there some other process that can be iniated in order to use the opportunity of launching a really European-wide debate on the alternatives ahead?

I don't know - and nobody else seems to have much of an idea. I'll spend tomorrow in Brussels listening to what's happening there, but it's unlikely that I will be much enlightened.

The Foreign Ministers are already meeting in Luxembourg for the last critical pre-summit maneuverings, but I suspect they will have to focus on the difficult budget issue.

There is an attempt to settle these issues now through a grand compromise. It would of course be very welcome if this succeeds, not the least since a solution will not be possible during the coming UK presidency.

But with due respect to the Foreign Ministera - The Big Drama will be reserved for the heads of state and government later in the week.

Stay tuned.

The Gains of Liberalisation

Cutting barriers to competition, investment and trade in US and EU would boost GDP - OECD study

In these days of protectionist sentiments and resistance to change it is useful to note the research reports on the gains of liberalisation just published by the OECD in Paris.

The paper just takes the best example in each area among the OECD member countries and applies it to all of the countries and then tries to make an estimate of the economic effects.

Efforts like these are certainly not an exact science, but it is still a useful way of trying to get a rough idea of possible effects.

Here, one has taken the Australian level of state control over business, the Danish light administrative procedures for start-up companies, the Irish and British openness to competition and the clear business regulation of Canada and made one economic model of it all.

The results are significant increases in economic growth and welfare - more so in the EU area than anywhere. Over a working lifetime, these increases could amount to a full year's salary.

Not too bad.

As a matter of fact a rather good political program. Let's see if there are any takers.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Vital Battle For Internet

A battle for the soul of the Internet | Perspectives | CNET

Without much publicity, a critical battle over the future of the Internet is going on.

It concerns who will be responsible for managing the complex set-up of numbers, addresses and domain names that makes the Internet what it is.

Presently, this is done by an organisation called ICANN. Leaving all technicalities aside, it's an example of self-regulation and self-organisation that, despite some flaws, works amazingly well.

It's driven by the strong ethos still there from the founding days of the modern Internet.

But now governments in the former of the global ITU body wants to take over. They set the standards for the telegraph and the telephone, but they are left out of the Internet area. No wonder they are fighting...

The battle is more than a bureaucratic turf battle.

It's a battle of philosophy - is global self-governing of this sort possible and desirable? It's a battle of control - with governments in the driving seats things might be different.

It's - in short - a battle that should concern us.

I believe I have a fair amount of experience of both the UN system and the ICANN system, having worked in and for both of them.

In my view, the UN is an an idea and an organisatgion worth protecting and preserving.

But I certainly would not have the UN running everything in the world. It would be horrible. And I don't see any valid reasons whatsoever of dismantling the model for global self-regulation of a key sector that ICANN represents.

Friday, June 10, 2005

A Nordic Giant Resigns

YLE uutiset

Paavo Lipponen took a tear-full farwell to the Social Democratic Party of Finland that he lead for the past twelwe years.

He was a leader with a stature that put its imprint on the Finland of his years and radiated throughout the Nordic countries. His convictions were firm and his voice was strong.

He was not alone in giving Finland the success it has had during the past decade, but without him far less is likely to have been possible.

For him, it was an article of faith that Finland should be at the core of the project of European integration.

He was openly in favour of Finlands membership in the EU years before anyone else in the party that he was eventually to lead dared to have that view. And as Prime Minister he took Finland into the Euro. He remains a strong supporter of a common European defence and security policy.

Relations with Sweden were not always easy. It's an open secret that he is less than impressed with the leadership qualities of Swedish PM Göran Persson.

He considered Swedish policy uncertain, wavering and without vision.

Paavo Lipponen stays as President of the Riksdag in Finland, and as such an important voice in the debate.

I hope we'll continue to hear his voice and his views.

Norway Decides

. . . og n�er Fr.p. nest st�rst i Norge -

Soon, Norway will move on from celebrating the achievement of full state independence a century ago and focus on what it intends to do with its future.

On September 12 there is election to the Norwegian Parliament - the Storting.

Today's opinion polls points towards the possibility of a red-green thing coming to power in Norway at the same time as they are seen as a truly spent force in the rest of Norway.

The Labour party comes out as the strongest party, but it's still very weak if you compare it with its golden days in the past. Any result below 30 per cent must be seen as a confirmation of a long-term decline.

Nevertheless, they might get into power with the Socialist Left Party and the Centre Party.

They are both distinctly off-centre, and none more so than the Centre Party.

It has been opposed to Norway entering into virtually any international agreement that has to do with trade and the economy. It is protectionist and isolationist in its very genes.

On the centre-right side, everything isn't lost as of yet, although the situation is far from good.

The populist Progress Party is gaining ground again, while the Christian People's Party of Prime Minister Bondevik is hovering in the lower reaches of support and the Conservative Höyre is experiencing a sudden weakening of support.

So far, the political debate prior to the election is difficult to detect.

With the economy doing extremely well and no one wanting to discuss Norway's marginalisation in Europe, there doesn't seem to be much around to excite anyone.

It's a pity.

The Wonders of France

There is a somewhat bizarre element to news coming out of the Fifth Republic these days.

The referendum they had was about the Constitutional Treaty for the European Union. But looking at what's been happening since the resounding Non in it you begin to wonder.

On the issue that was lost, the message from Paris is that everything must continue. Ratification should proceed in other countries as if France and its referendum didn't existed.

But on issues of domestic affairs, there is sudden change everywhere. President Chirac said the referendum wasn't about the government, and then demonstrated that it really was by changing it.

Now, Prime Minister de Villepin has presented his policies to the National Assembly in Paris. It wasn't much - but he is still saying that this will give the French economy a new start within 100 days.

But his words are remarkable when he says that "the French people know and say with force that globalization is not an ideal, it cannot be our destiny." It's words in the same tradition as when the President distanced himself from the alleged "ultraliberalism" of the Anglo-Sachson countries.

But the way of the future is the way of globalization. Also the way of the future for France.

Europe has a choice. We can build borders and barriers towards the rest of the world and present what's out there as a threat. Or we can create an open Europe that works for an open world and sees all of the possibilities that this brings.

To choose the policies of the wall is to choose a destiny of long-term decline. To choose the policies of the web is to create the possibilities for being part of a world that moves towards better possibilities for everyone.

As long as leading politicians of Europe sees globalization as a threat we are heading for trouble. The battle for the idea of globalization is also a battle for the future of Europe.

Prime Minister de Villepin is on the losing side of history. I hope France will not be there as well. It has much to contribute.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The China Debate

Conflict is not an option - Editorials & Commentary - International Herald Tribune

Just days after Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been touring Asia warning about the consequences of the growth of Chinese military capabilities, Henry Kissinger warns against a policy that is seen as confrontational with China.

The two men clearly agree on the significance of the issue. As Kissinger puts it:

"As a new century begins, the relations between China and the United States may well determine whether our children will live in turmoil even worse than the 20th century or whether they will witness a new world order compatible with universal aspirations for peace and progress."

But that's to a large extent the end of the agreement. The one sees military containment of China as the priority, while the other sees political engagement as the policy to be pursued.

Be certain that the debate will continue - and it's certainly an important one.

China's Cyberwall Higher and Higher

China Tightens Restrictions on Bloggers and Web Owners - New York Times

There are new reports on new efforts by the authorities in China to control the Internet, and now also the power of bloggers when it comes to spreading information.

They wouldn't do this if they were not nerveous. At the end of the day, the measures taken irritate hugely, but is likely to have a limited effect on those that really want to know or spread information around.

But their nerveousness is an interesting information in itself

Concern in Moscow

There is obvious confusion inside the solid walls of the Kremlin in Moscow.

I spent the beginning of this week in a summerwarm Moscow discussing not the least the relationsship between Russia and the European Union. Since then - but that's another story - have I been to Oslo for June 7 and I'm now briefly in the United States.

The obvious confusion in the Kremlin I'm thinking of isn't primarily related to the state of Russia. It concerns the European Union. Time after time I'm asked where Europe is now headed and which are likely to be the consequences.

There is no Schadenfreude in these questions in Moscow. It's obvious that Russia feels the need for a European Union that can be a reliable and predictable actor and partner also in all of the questions that the EU and Russia has in common.

We are, said a Russian in authority, interested in a strong and coherent European Union. "We would like to have a partner, an interlocuteur and a neighbour."

Whether I was able to give them convincing answers to their questions is somewhat doubtful.

I tried to say that on practically all issues concerning the normal functioning of European integration things will continue to move forward. The existing treaties are OK - although not ideal - for the time being.

It's when it comes to enlargement that one immediately encounters a more problematic situation. And that could have disturbing consequences.

Universally, there was expressed the hope that the European Union gets its act together as soon as possible.

The concerns of Moscow probably reflects the concerns of the world. And one would hope that Europe will listen.

Monday, June 06, 2005

June 6 and Sweden

Today is the National Day of Sweden - and for the first time ever it's also a national holiday. A slight rearrangements of holidays have made it possible also for Sweden to have its National Day as a holiday.

I happen to think that this is a good idea. I would however also be in favour of making May 9 as the Day of Europe some sort of holiday.

The only problem is that we have to work as well. Holidays are good for happiness, but not necessarily for the GDP. And it's out of the GDP that most things at the end of the day are paid.

Why June 6?

Well, it was on June 6 in 1523 that Gustav Vasa was crowned as King of Sweden, thus really starting the history of the modern Swedish state.

Prior to that there had been the Union of Kalmar which had brought Norway, Denmark and Sweden together in a relationship that at the end of the day did not work out. Gustav Vasa was the young noblemen that led the peasants of Sweden in a rebellion to throw out the so called foreign masters, mainly the Danes. That he did it with great subsidies from Germany wasn't that much part of the public story at the time.

That was the first June 6.

The second was in 1809 as a new constitution was enacted, which was going to last until 1974, when on June 6 as well another one was adopted.

When Sweden broke away from the loose Nordic union, it broke away as a unified country of what is today Sweden and Finland. But in 1809, as a result of another failed war with Russia, what is today Finland was separated from what is today Sweden and come under the authority of the Tsar of Russia in St Petersburg.

In the meantime, Denmark had continued to rule Norway, but also this come to its end as a result of the turmoils of the Napoleonic wars, and Sweden and Norway entered a very loose union in 1814. This union, as I have written about earlier, effectively was terminated by the Storting/Parliament of Norway on June 7 1904.

Thus, we see the gradual emergence of the present pattern of national states in Northern Europe after a past that was far more in common. Finland, of course, gained its indepence as a result of the collapse of Tsarist Russia and the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.

So, there we are.

In a thought-provoking small piece in Dagens Nyheter today, its political editor Niklas Ekdal concludes by saying that if the European Union did not exist today, we would clearly have to invent it very fast, while if the present Nordic national states didn't, it not a sure thing that they would have to be invented.

Perhaps we would live happily with our more regional identities within a firmer and larger European framework. Perhaps.

But we are were we are, and today we celebrate the National Day of Sweden.

It's not necessarily the greatest thing of the day in Moscow - were I spend the day - but I hope it is at home in Sweden.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Clear but Divided Swiss Result

Avoiding to cut itself completely off from the rest of Europe, the Swiss voted in todays referendum to endorse the agreement that makes it possible for them to join the Schengen area of passport-free travel in Europe.

It was a clear result. 58 % voted Yes, and 42 % accordingly voted No.

As usual, there was a distinct split along cultural lines. The French cantons voted very clearly in favour and the Italian canton of Ticino voted against. That's the usual pattern on issues like these.

The German-speaking canton were more divided. The business hub of Zurich and its related small canton of Zug voted in favour, as did the large canton of Bern. But the hearthland of the Alps and Eastern Switzerland voted against in the way they usually do.

Another referendum in the autumn, which will extend labour market freedoms in Switzerland also for those coming from the new EU members states, is likely to be thougher.

The Swiss have lost their old self-confidence. Isolation not longer works - but for many integration is too uncertain an alternative.

The nation is drifting.

Politics of Fear - Swiss Version

Schweizerische Volkspartei SVP (Homepage). Union D�mocratique du Centre UDC (page d'accueil).

Today there is a referendum in Switzerland primarily on the treaty that would make it possible for the country to become part of the Schengen area of free travel in Europe.

You would think that this would be fairly uncontroversial.

But it's not. The backward-looking Schweizerische Volkspartei (SVP), which has been growing visibly during the latest election, is conducting a campaign of fear in order to get voters to say No.

Posters depict a woman screaming in horror over the prospects of losing both her security and her job if the treaty is approved.

In the rest of Europe, Schengen is today a normal part of daily life. Even non-EU member Norway is part of the arrangement. Few would see it as a threat - most would see it as one of the gains of European integration that is now a normal part of our societies.

But these are field days for the politics of fear. Even in Switzerland.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Non of Verdun

The Battle of Verdun and the number of casualties

In the city of Verdun, 52,8 % voted Non in the referendum on the Constitutional Treaty for the European Union.

Verdun isn't any city in France, and the result there isn't any result.

The battle for Verdun was one of the most horrible of the horrible battles on the Western Front during the First World War.

Even today, a visit to Verdun is a chilling reminder of the brutal reality of war. Large areas are still off-limits. Battered by artillery. Poisoned by gas. Filled with remnants of those thousands after thousands that were killed.

But Verdun is also a symbol of the reconciliation between France and Germany that is at the very core of the efforts at European integration and, eventually, the European Union.

It was here that French President Francois Mitterand stood hand in hand and in silence with German Chancellor Hemuth Kohl in one of the most significant symbolic scenes of the last half-century.

But now Verdun votes Non.

There are two ways of looking at this.

One is to see it as a true sign of the success of the European Union. Peace in Europe has been made so secure that it is taken for granted. The spectre of war has disappeared from Verdun - and we should remember that this was the purpose of the entire exercise. Success.

The other is to see it as a strong message on the need to develop and explain a new story on the necessity of European integration.

Obviously, the peace issue is seen as resolved in wide parts of Western Europe. Apart from appeling to people to understand that this isn't necessarily the case in other parts of Europe, what is there that can be side to support further efforts at Euopean interation?

Perhaps we should say that integration has brought not the least young people the possibility to travel freedly across borders and to study in other countries. We have got cheaper mobile phones and cheap low-cost airlines all over Europe. Borders are rapidly losing in importance.

The Non olf Verdun vividly shows that we need a new story of Europe in the age of globalisation in order to get and retain the support of the voters for all that we are trying to achieve.
Ambitious goals - but without ambitious goals we know that we are doomed for failure.

Words of Wisdom from Zagreb

Ured predsjednika RH - ENGLISH�

Zagreb in Croatia has been the scene of a high-level meeting discussing Southeastern Europe and European integration during the last two days.

It was a meeting dominated by concerns over where Europe is heading after the debacles in France and the Netherlands. There are very genuine worries in the region that they will just be dumped and neglected and the consequences this would have.

The President of Croatia Stjepan Mesic warned explicitly of the dangers and challenges ahead.

He wanted, that "there are unfortunately those who think that we can and even should revive certain ghosts and myths of the past. This is simply a delusion, however a delusion which - if translates into politics - could have fatal consequences."

"It is possible for us to go back to the collective hated and fear that ruled this area for centuries. It is possible for us to go back to the priviligies and selective application of laws, which is a realm for new divisions, discrimination and isolation."

"The European Union, this is how I see it, is tired of enlargement, while we, countries in transition, are tired of transition. This, however, should not become a new line of division on the continent... The process of European integration should be brought to a conclusion, without too much hesitation."

Wise words from a wise man.

These days one has to go to Zagreb, Kiev or Riga to see and feel the tremendous importance of the European Union and its integration.

Brussels has descended into itself. Member countries are in sudden political disarray.

And the tabloids and much of the rest of the media are discussing the wages of members of the European Parliament went issues of war and peace, freedom or semi-authoritarianism, are still on the table in important parts of Europe.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Misdirected Glee

Why The French Vote Was Bad For America

There has been a fair amount of glee on the other side of the Atlantic over the political mess in France after the defeat of Chirac in the referendum on the Constitutional Treaty.

Some seem almost genetically inclined to believe that what goes wrong for the Elysee Palace and France has to be good for the White House and United States.

Well, there are also voices thinking several thoughts in row before they put pen on paper. Philip Gordon at Brookings is one of them. He's a leading expert on European affairs.

And he certainly fears that things could go from bad to worse from the US perspective.

Dominique de Villepin is now the Prime Minister of France. Few persons are more universally loathed inside the beltway than he is. He's seen as the incarnation of everything that's wrong with France from the US point of view.

He's even a poet...

And the Non forces are now calling for more protectionism, more state interventions, more regulation and a far firmer French front against the so called ultra-liberalism they see as threathening their sacred way of life.

Their European Union would in fact be a far more interventionist, protectionist, centralized and closed entity than is the case at the moment - or would have resulted from implementation of the Constitutional Treaty.

So it would be appropriate to hold the jubilation and glee over there within fairly strict limits.

A Hundred Year's Ago

1905 – A Peaceful Separation (The Centennial Anniversary Norway 1905-2005)

I have spent a day in Helsinki taking part in the celebration of the 30th year anniversary of the beutiful Swedish-Finnish cultural center at Hanaholmen in the Helsinki archiepelago.

There, we also spent an evening discussing how we in 2009 should commemorate the momenteous event in 1809 when Sweden lost Finland and it was placed under the rule of the Tsar of Russia.

Up until then, it had been a completely unified state. The separation was - needless to say - an event of the greatest importance for both nations.

We discussed it in the light of the ongoing commemoration of the dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway in 1905 - a hundred years ago. That was the modern birth of the independent nation of Norway.

It was a peaceful affairs, although with some background rumblings. But it was a union so loose as to make it questionable if the word union was even correct.

The same person was King of Sweden and King of Norway. That's was it. And then there was the gradual establishment of a rudimentary foreign service, and that become the source of the dispute that ultimately sealed the fate of the union.

It was on June 7th 1905 that the Norwegian Storting took the decision that the King of Sweden was no longer to be seen as the King of Norway.

It was a dramatic time. Only days before, virtually the entire Imperial Russian navy had been destroyed by the Japanese navy in the Tsusima Straits between Japan and Korea.

June 7th is on Tuesday next week. I will be in Oslo then, although on different business, establishing even better links between the high-tech venture capital business on the top of Europe.

But history always count. If we don't understand history, we will not be able to face the future.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Well, Another One... [Nieuwsportaal van Nederland]

The Dutch vote on the Constitutional Treaty is much more clear than the French one - 63 % No with a 62 % turnout of the electorate.

We'll see, but I expect this to spell the end of the bizarre charade of some European leaders saying that everything must just move on and the French and the Dutch and the possible others must simply be forced to fall in line the one way or the other...

It's simply not going to happen. Worse, the very effort might well be damaging to what we are trying to achieve.

When in the Netherlands earlier this year, it was not difficult to detect an undercurrent of suspicion that the Union had started to treat different countries differently and that they were simply not prepared to accept it.

To a large extent this is a question of Germany. That's not an entirely uncomplicated subject in the Netherlands.

They had to adhere to the more rigorous version of the Stability and Growth Pact. But Berlin just said that they couldn't care less and that it was Brussels rather than them that had to change.

Things like these are not quickly forgotten. For the Netherlands, it makes a difference if their neighbour is a Germany that puts Europe first or a Germany that puts Germany first.

I suspect that a part of the Dutch rebellion today is a rebellion against the bigger preaching the law to the smaller while putting themselves above the same law.

A not unfair point, by the way. And one that must be taken into consideration in the years to come.

Beware of Instability Ahead!

Europe must keep its 'soft power'

Suddenly we have a new debate on whether the enlargement of the European Union should continue or not.

It's a vitally important debate for everyone concerned with the stability of Europe.

Let us be clear: if we backtrack on the commitment to an enlargement of the European Union with the countries of Southeastern Europe, neither the continued European reformation of Turkey nor the reconciliation and reintegration of the war-torn socities of the Balkans has much prospect of going forward.

In fact, the risk of backsliding is very great.

If the Union pulls back from its commitment to enlargement, there is a serious risk that these societies start to backtrack on their commitment to European values and stability.

And that's my message in an OpEd article in the Financial Times today. The link is to the Centre for European Reform website, since you can find it there as well as on the FT site.

There are those saying - Angela Merkel of the CDU in Germany among them - that we can't overburden the Union and that we must bring the citizens along.

That's certainly correct, and there has been much sinning in the later respects during the last few years. I know of few political leaders that truly have tried to carry the message of the virtues of globalization and the enlargement of the Union to their respective electorates.

Leadership has been profoundly lacking.

But to leap from this towards a populism that sees Polish plumbers as a threat to the social fabric of Europe, or plays towards rude anti-Muslim prejudicies to stop Turkey, is irresponsible in the extreme.

There is reason to be worried. We'll see what comes out of the French debate on these issues.

And we'll see if CDU in Germany manages the delicate balancing act between irresponsible populism and sceptical leadership on these issues during the coming election campaign.

Putin's Prisoner

Kremlin's Win Is Russia's Loss

After three weeks of further farce in the courtroom in Moscow, it was finally announced that Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been sentenced to nine years in prison.

The Moscow Times today writes about "a blast of Siberian winter smacking us right in the face."

That's unfortunately what it is. Russia is a country of vast potential, and an important part of the better Europe we are seeking to build.

But without the rule of the law Russia risks degenerating into a stagnating and bureaucratic petro-autocracy.