Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Vilnius for Democracy

Last week it was very much the internal state of the European Union as well as the challenges facing the trans-Atlantic relationship that was the focus of different discussions I attended in Berlin and Brussels.

Tonight I'm heading for beutiful Vilnius in Lithuania where the perspective will be different - but certainly no less important.

The Vilnius Conference will focus on the prospects for democracy and freedom in the more Eastern parts of our continent.

If the enlargement of the European Union has consolidated peace and created new prospects for prosperity in the belt of 10 nations and 100 million people from Estonia to Bulgaria, the situation further towards the East is less clearcut.

Vilnius will be an impressive gathering.

Among apart from the presidents of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, there will also be those of Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, Romania and Bulgaria as well as the Vice-President of the United States.

That the US is sending Vice President Cheney to this gathering can be seen as a sign to Moscow that the democracy issues are still high on the agenda prior to the G8 Sumnit in St Petersburg in mid-July.

My task will primarily be to moderate different sessions both on the pre-summit tomorrow and the large summit on Thursday. The voice of the European Union will be the voice of High Representative Javier Solana. And Sweden is sending Deputy Prime Minister Bo Ringholm.

Our discussions in Vilnius will certainly have consequences well beyond the summit itself. And they will take place during days of other important events as well.

Today will see diplomats from the EU3 as well as from the US, Russia and China meeting in Paris to discuss which steps to take after the IAEA report on Iran to the Security Council at the end of next week. Expect them to agree on the aims - but differ on the means.

Tomorrow I hope the European Commission will publish its assessment of the effects of the enlargement two years ago. There is no way around making any such assessment very positive.

Tomorrow will also see German Chancellor Merkel heading for Washington for talks with President Bush only days after returning from her talks in Tomsk with President Putin. It's clear where the European centre of gravity these days is.

Italy might be getting a government. Silvio Berlusconi is resigning later today, and we might well see the process of forming the Prodi government speed up in relation to expectation. That will further contribute to the change of the balance on important political issues in Europe.

But in the Balkans there is now an extremely acute risk that the European Union will have to suspend talks with Serbia and Montenegro over the coming SAA agreement due to the failure to deliver Mladic to the Hague. It will be a significant setback primarily for Serbia, but for the efforts at stability in the wider region as well.

And in Great Britain there will be the not altogether unimportant local elections that I have written about before on Thursday.

Another week in the politics of a rather dynamic Europe.