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.