Friday, September 01, 2006

Lappeenranta Thoughts

Today the foreign ministers of the European Union assemble in Lappeenranta in southeastern Finland for their twice-a-year informal discussion of the state of the world.

They will meet among the beutiful lakes of the Saima district of Finland.

It is not too far from the city of Viborg that was once established by the Sweden of those days as a trading outpost towards the East, and which up until it was incorporated in the Soviet Union after World War II was a cosmopolitan hub on the Gulf of Finland.

They will certainly not lack issues to discuss. And the Middle East will be in focus of their discussions.

I see in the media that the Finnish Foreign Minister Tuomioja has declared that Europe should now be ready to talk also to Hamas, and this is bound to stir some debate.

But of course he's right. If the European Union should engage itself more actively in the Middle East - instead of just being asked to foot the bill or provide the troops - then it must be ready to have open channels of communication with all the actors in the region.

And it might well be that the EU could play a critical role in facilitating some move to avoids the emerging meltdown both on the West Bank and in Gaza. It's difficult to see that anyone else could - although the difficulties for the EU should certainly not be underestimated.

The US is more and more engaged in the November mid-term elections, and the administration is stressing the message of fighting terrorism and "Islamic fascism". No openings are to be expected from there at this time.

And Israel is heavily engaged in its internal debate on what went wrong with the Lebanon war. It has scrapped whatever it had as policy for the West Bank and is now doing little more than handling a status quo that is rapidly changing for the worse.

To all of this should of course be added the looming larger crisis with Iran, where at the least the EU3 has a critical role to play, as well as the need to manage the fragile situation in Lebanon.

In addition, I hope that they will have some time to at the least show awareness of the challenges looming in the Balkans.

Whether there will be time for a sauna as well I don't know - but meeting where they do, there should be.