Sunday, January 21, 2007

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.