The Great Chinese Cyber Wall

30 september 2005

China hits blogs where it hurts | The Register

Things were not too good before, but now it seems as if the authorities in Beijing are getting even more nerveous over the potential political impact of the Internet – including the new phenomena of blogging.

Recently, a series of new measures have been announced to control the flow of information over the Internet.

In effect, the regime only wants its own version of what’s happening to be available.

That’s a sign of weakness – not the other way around.


Gustaf Mannerheim

29 september 2005

bildt.net

There is no doubt that Gustaf Mannerheim is one of the most interesting personalities of the dramatic European 20th century.

With wide margins seen as the most significant Finnish personality ever, I think it is too limited to see him only in that perspective.

That what was I argued at a most well-attended seminar at the Embassy of Finland earlier today that had gathered different scholars of both the period and of the person.

Most of the attention given to Mannerheim is obviously focused on his role in securing the independence of Finland in 1917 and 1918, as well as surviving the Soviet onslaught in first the Winter War 1939 and 1940 and then the war of continuation from 1941 to 1944.

But essentially he was a Swede from Finland who become a general in the army and court of the Tsar of Russia, and whom the Bolsjevik revolution forced back to his native Finland to try to save it from the Red menance.

The speech is – unfortunately – in Swedish, but there might be those that understand that language as well.

It could be noted that the two main languages of Mannerheim were Swedish and Russian. His Finnish was never much to boast about.

It was a different time.


Congratulations Finland!

29 september 2005

World Economic Forum – Global Competitiveness Report

For the third consecutive year, Finland emerges as the world’s most competitive economy in the annual ranking by the World Economic Forum.

A number of factors contribute, but not the least the commitment to education and research that is there in Finland. It’s basic education system is consistently ranked as one of the best in the world.

But the Nordic area as a whole is doing well in this ranking.

Sweden keeps its number three position, Denmark moves up from position five to position four, and Iceland from ten to seven. Only Norway slips – from six to nine.

But all the five Nordic nations are in the global top ten of competitiveness.

The others in that exclusive category are United States, Taiwan, Singapore, Switzerland and Australia.

Sweden’s ranking is, as usual, one of ambivalence. We are coming were high on topics like Internet connectivity and managment skills in the enterprises, but fairly low on those connected with the politics of the country.

On quality of education in science and mathematics we rank 42 out of 117, on labour market legislation 117, on the tax system 109 and on flexibility in wages 108.

It’s fairly obvious that there is a need for improvement – and that it can be done fairly easily.

But overall, the Nordic countries are not only the top of Europe, but very clearly part of the top of the world.


Strange Maneuvering in Strasbourg

28 september 2005

News – Press service – Info – Turkey and opening accession negotiations

Confusion is probably the best way of describing the results of today’s debate and vote on the issue of Turkey in the European Parliament.

At the end of the day, however, 356 MEP’s voted in favour of and 181 MEP’s against a resolution that gives a green light to the opening of membership negotiations.

The biggest group in the European Parliament – the centre-right EPP-ED group – is split on the issue, with the Germans and the French there opposing it all.

But it should be noted that a majority of the EPP-ED group does not share this point of view, but takes a more positive view.


Road for Turkey as Important as Destination

28 september 2005

EUROPA – Rapid – Press Releases

Today, the European Parliament is discussing the issue of starting accession negotiations with Turkey.

That negotiations will start on October 3rd now looks virtually certain. It’s only Austria making some strange sounds, but they might in fact be playing for something else.

In Parliament, enlargement commissioner Olliu Rehn has been presenting his point of view.

And he makes the important point that the journey is as important as the destination.

In more concrete terms, this means that the continued reform process that will have to be driven forward in Turkey during the years of negotiation might be as important as achieving the goal of membership.

This is certainly true. One needs only to look at the example of the Central European and Baltic states to see the critical importance of the journey.

It’s a journey of new European reforms and European transformation that starts for Turkey on October 3rd.

Good for us all.


Denmark Debates Europe

28 september 2005

DR Nyheder Online – Deadline 22:30 -

Yesterday was the day when Denmark was supposed to have had its referendum on the Constitutional Treaty of the European Union. Obviously, this did not happen.

Instead it was the day when an ambitious attempt was made to restart the debate on where Europe is heading.

Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen published a not particularly offensive piece on the issue in Politiken in the morning, and Danish industy – including the trade unions – organised a major conference on European issues where I was one of the featured speakers. Among others there was also Foreign Minister Per Stig Möller and the new leader of the Social Democratic opposition party.

And there seems to have been a fair amount of attention given to these issues on TV as well. I was the guest in the main TV current affairs program in the evening.

It has to be said that Denmark takes these issues seriouly. To some extent it is the result of having had a long series of referendums which over time have forced far more of debate on these issues.

There seems to be a fair amount of consensus on getting away from the focus on the institutional issues, and to concentrate on some of the issues of substance, with the economy taking centre stage. As expected, Danes of all persuasions speak proudly of their Danish model of labour market flexicurity.

Noticeable is also a broad consensus is sharply critical of the mess created with quotas for Chinese textile imports. Being the trading nation that it is, Denmark is a strong opponent of the protectionist sentiments sometimes found in the deliberations in Brussels. Good.

The controversial issue remains enlargement with an emphasis on Turkey. In his article, the PM was vague on the issue, restricting himself to asking questions, although the Foreign Minister was obviously more positive.

I spoke about the merits and importance of enlargement with an emphasis on Turkey and the Balkans. I’ll make certain that a link to the text appears here as well.

A good initiative, Denmark!


Swiss Yes

25 september 2005

SCHWEIZ: Resultate der Volksabstimmung vom 25. September 2005 (NZZ Online)

In a referendum today, the voters of Switzerland has endorsed the agreement that extends the right of free movement of workers also to the ten new member states of the European Union.

With 56 % yes, it was a more positive result than when Switzerlands joining of the Schengen agreement was endorsed by 55 % in a previous referendum.

In its own way, also Switzerland wants to be part of Europe.


French Minds on Europe

25 september 2005

In Lisbon on Saturday, I shared a panel with French philospher and author Bernhard-Henri Levy discussing the present state of Europe and our position in the wider world.

It was part of the European Ideas Fair of the European Ideas Network that I have written about before.

Levy and I have not seen eye to eye on aspect of thre Yugoslav wars, but this wasn’t the topic of the Lisbon discussion, although we agreed to seek to meet and discuss that issue as well at some time.

He delivered a devastating critique of the state of the debate in France at this time.

According to him, anti-americanism is rampant, and words like liberal, globalisation and even Europe is used only to scare people. France, according to him, is in the danger of retreating from some of its own very best contributions to the development of the West.

I hope he’s exaggerating in order to make the point, but he’s certainly worth listening to.

Tomorrow I’m heading to Paris to share a panel with former European Commission President Jaques Delors to discuss how Europe can overcome its present crisis. Also on the panel is Elmar Brok, who chairs the Foreign and Security Affairs Committee of the European Parliament.

It’s all part of the Annual Meeting of the European Union Institute for Security Studies with EU High Representative Javier Solana also there.

Delors is always worth listening to. I’ll see if he shares the deep pessimism of Bernhard-Henri Levy.


The Iranian Challenge

25 september 2005

Empowering Iran – New York Times

After intense diplomacy, the EU3 has succeeded in getting majority support on the board of the IAEA in Vienna for a resolution that opens up for reporting the question of Iran and its nuclear activities to the UN Security Council. It however leaves it open when this could be done.

It remains to be seen what good this will do. So far – as the linked editorial in the New York Times today argues – most of the policy moves done versus Iran in the last few years have been counterproductive. The hardliners are stronger, and the democrats weaker, in today’s Teheran.

There is no question that there is reason for concern. IAEA Director-General El-Baradei said after the vote, that ”the international community is . . . not satisfied with the level of confidence-building measures Iran has so far taken.

There are however different degrees to that dissatisfaction. Of the 35 states on the IAEA board, 22 voted in favour of the diluted resolution, while most of the others abstained.

There were numerous reasons for these abstentions. One is the fear that a move towards the Security Council would cause Iran to limit its cooperation with the IAEA and indeed start actual enrichment of uranium, as it indeed has threatened to do. Then, the entire thing would result in the situation getting worse.

And behind is also the fear that if the issue goes to the Security Council without a clear strategy on what to do there, one could end up in a situation of escalation like the one leading up to the Iraq war. Suspicions against Washington after those months undoubtedly plays a significant role.

But it is clear that there will have to be taken a broader approach to the entire issue of relations with Iran. Iran is critical also to stability in Iraq. 40 % of the oil that is traded internationally daily passes through the Strait of Hormuz. We are dealing with a significant nation.

Instead of policy at a distance, the US must move closer to all of these issues by establishing diplomatic relations with Iran.

It’s one of the oddities of today’s world that such relations don’t exist. Not that they in themselv would solve much, but they would at least increase the points of contacts and make better daily assessments of what’s happening possible.

We are talking about one of the most difficult, and potentially most dangereous, issues on the global political agenda of today.


Ideas from Wall Street to Lisbon

23 september 2005

With hurricane Rita closing in on the shores of the US Gulf coast, I’m leaving New York and heading for Lisbon in Portugal.

Two days have been spent discussing the ten greatest risks to the global economy in a conference facility by Wall Street just a stone throw from where the World Trade Center once stood. An assortment of experts as well as people from the financial industry have been trying to do their best to see what could go wrong in the years ahead.

The results were not without interest. At the end of the two days, concerns over global energy supplies come in very high, followed by worries about a possible sudden correction of primarily the US current account deficit, with the spectre of the effects on the global economy of new pandemic diseases also hovering over the discussion.

Terrorism certainly figured as well, but far less than just a few years ago, and there was obviously concern over developments in the Middle East, not the least in Iraq. This being the United States, we also had our discussions on the peaceful rise of China and the possibility of that leading to confrontations further down the road.

And then there were obviously the issues connected with possible systemic chocks in the global financial system that’s centered in the very buildings around were we were meeting. In a low interest-rate environment, the search for yields might be driving the system into riskier environments with increasingly advanced but perhaps not fully understood instruments.

From here I’m heading to Lisbon to speak tomorrow to the European Ideas Fair of the European Ideas Network that every year brings the best and the brightest of the centre-right of the European Union countries, and primarily the EPP parties and their associated think-thanks.

We’ll be meeting in the conference center in Belem just by the great monument to those explorers that from the shores of the river Tagus went out beyond the borders of the known world to see what there was beyond the far horizons.

Perhaps we need somewhat more of that spirit to handle all of the challenges of our Europe and our world today.


Global War Against Warming

23 september 2005

HoustonChronicle.com – News

It’s still faboulous summer weather in New York, but the country as a whole is preparing for the landfall of hurricane Rita on the Gulf coast of Texas probably early Saturday morning.

It’s an amazing story of the world’s greatest power being forced litterally to its knews by the forces of nature.

Outside Houston, NASA has evacuated the 15 000-person Johnson Space Center, including the famous Mission Control that has been and continous to be running all manned space missions.

Control of the International Space Station has been transferred from Houston to the space control facility just outside of Moscow in Russia. Even the small emergency crew has now been withdrawn.

One can not but wonder what long-term effects these two hurricanes will have on the United States. The fact that Rita follows directly after Karina probably takes some off the heat off President Bush, but at the same time there is bound to be a shift of priorities on a number of issues.

Rebuilding will have to be paid for. Already after Karina there was talk of 200 billion dollars, which is app the same cost as for the Iraq war so far. And it remains to be seen what Rita will cause in terms of immediate damage.

This has already re-ignited the debate about tax cuts as eroding the public finances versus tax cuts as a means of getting the growth out of which also rebuilding will have to be paid. At the end of the day, I guess the conclusion will be more towards the later position.

It will also cause a new debate on environmental issues. The link between alleged global warming and these hurricanes is far from clear, but the public perception is that there are more hurricanes, and thar this has to be caused by something.

It is not to be excluded that the global war against warming will start to compete with the global war against terrorism for the attention of decision-makers in Washington. Whether this is right or not, there is likely to be a narrowing of the gap across the Atlantic on the issue.

This is among the topics I will continue to discuss here tomorrow, as people from the financial industry is meeting to discuss ”the ten greatest risks to the global economy”.


Dealing with the Devil

22 september 2005

This deal is no bargain – Los Angeles Times

Back in New York. Summer just continues here. Clear blue sky over the East Coast, but the nation is now keenly following hurricane Rita as it gathers strength and approaches the coastline.

It was indeed remarkable that it was possible to agree on a statement of principles in after 23 months of the so-called six party talks on the question of North Koreas nuclear program. It is obvious that Beijing had decided to demonstrate that at the end of the day they are able to deliver.

The document agreed upon certainly does not resolve all aspects of the conflict. It will unavoidably be compared with the 1994 deal that Pyongyang later violated by initiating a separate uranium-based weapons program, leading to the crisis that produced the crisis of today.

There are differences, but there are more of similarities. North Korea is promised normalized relations as well as access to civilian nuclear technology in exchange for giving up its weapons program. That was the essence of the 1994 deal, and that remains the essence of this deal.

But the devil is always in the details – not th least when one is trying to make a deal with the devil.

Pyongyang has immediately stated that it demands access to a light-water reactor before it dismantles its nuclear program. And Washington has said that this is all wrong, and that it has to be the other way around.

That will be the conflict when the talks continue, as well as the need to establish fool-proof mechanisms for making certain that Pyonyang does not try to cheat again. This will not be easy.

The deal has already aroused an amount of controversy here in the United States, since it does not really conform to what was implied in the beginning of the Bush administration. But with US powers bogged down elsewhere, there is de facto only a diplomatic track open, and there are limits to what can be achieved in this way.

Interesting is to see what implications this deal will have on the ongoing dispute with Iran.

The situations are different. Iran has not left the NPT, and accepts intrusive IAEA inspections. It professes to have no ambitions to develop nuclear weapons.

But the similarity is still there in the nature of the deals that must be offered.

If the US offered to normalize its relations with Iran, and if ways could be found to more credible assist their civilian nuclear ambitions under strict monitoring, perhaps there would be more of a way forward in the case of Iran as well.


Sweden Slipping

21 september 2005

Public Information Notice: IMF Executive Board Concludes 2005 Article IV Consultation with�Sweden

Yesterday was the day when the government in Sweden, after weeks of agony with its redgreen parliamentary base, presented its budget to the Riksdag.

As was to be expected when the government is facing an election next year and opinion polls are appalling, the budget promised vast sums of money trying to get unemployment down.

But that’s not likely to be much of a success. To a cost of 24 billion crowns it claims that it is creating 55 000 new jobs. This in itself isn’t much, but then practically all of it is in different labour market or educational schemes.

In an indirect sort of way this seems to be acknowledged by the government. It only believes that open unemployment will decrease by 0,2 %, at the same time as there will be a much bigger increase in persons in different labour market schemes.

The week before last the International Monetary Fund released its annual review of the economic performancy of the country.

All in all, Sweden has a decent growth performance, and the IMF believes that growth, driven by export successes, will be 2,5 % in the next two years. It could be much worse – as well as somewhat better.

But in other areas the record is far more mixed. IMF notes that employment has declined and unemployment has risen further, and that’s really the hearth of the failure.

Reforms are necessary, it says. That includes ”further reforms of the tax-benefit system”, although I fail to see the relevance of the word ”further” given the stalemate on the issue in recent years. And IMF urges that Sweden should ”accelerate the pace of other structural reforms” as well.

The most worriesome words are however reserved for the decline in the fiscal standards, with expenditure boosted well above what is prudent and responsible. With a diplomatic formulation which in all certainty is the result of diplomatic wrangling with the Swedish government – that’s the way these things are done – the IMF notes that this could be ”costly later”.

Costly later. Yes, indeed.


Government in Sudan

21 september 2005

1A1: Sudan Page @Sudan.Net

While there is complete confusion in Berlin on how Germany will be run in the years to come, the negotiators in Khartoum have agreed on the composition of the new unity government for the war-torn country of Sudan.

Talks have been hard, but at the end of the day it was the sense of compromise that evidently made it possible to go forward.

It seems as if the Sudan peace process – of vital importance for large parts of Africa – has managed to overcome its first really difficult hurdly.

Good news. We need that these days.


The German Extremists

19 september 2005

I had just to suffer a commentator in television who did not seem to understand why none of the other political parties in Germany were willing to enter into talks with the renewed leftist PDS party.

After all, it was noted, the party increased by 4,7% and got together 8,7% of the nationwide wide.

But Germany happens to be a country with history. And a rather complicated one, at that.

Within a generation it had to suffer first a nazi dictatorship and then in parts of the country a communist dictatorships. They both brought misery and death to Germany.

It’s not an unhealthy sign that modern democratic Germany keeps a distinct distance to those forces trying to build their strength on misdirected nostalgia for the past dictatorships on German soil.

This is the reason why both the NSDP – the old Nazi party – and the KPD – the old Communist party – are illegal in Germany.

But it’s very difficult to prevent these unreconstructed nostalgia types from turning up elsewhere.

On the extreme right, there are the so called national democrats in NDP. They figure now and then when they manage to capitalize on discontent of different sorts, but their basis remains weak.

In the election yesterday, they scored 1,6% of the second party votes. Not too impressive.

On the extreme left, the old SED Party of East Germany – the state party of the dictatorship and the wall – was transformed into the PDS that this year join forces with the ex-SPD leader Oskar Lafontaine and scored the result referred to above in Sunday’s election.

Gerhard Schröder might well have a certain personal antagonism against Oskar Lafontaine. After all, it was the latter who was the leader of the SPD when they won the election in 1998 and Schröder become chancellor. He is the Luficer of German Social Democracy.

But that’s really a separate story. The real story is that the PDS is the inheritor of the tradition that suppressed democracy, imprisoned and persecuted people for their beliefs and convictions, killed people on the border and impoverished its citizens.

We would all be chocked if the NPD was treated as a normal party among others in Germany.

We should note with satisfaction that the PDS is treated in essentially the same way as the NPD.

Democracy must be defended by democrats.


Practically Only Losers…

19 september 2005

n-tv.de

It looks like it will be another sunny and nice day in Berlin. Soon, the different party bodies of the different parties will start meeting to see what to do with the verdict handed down by the voters of Germany yesterday.

Over the first page of the local newspaper Tagesspiegel one can read the giant headline ”Deutschland hat Gewälht” – Germany has decided.

I wish that was true. But unfortunately Germany hasn’t. They have had an election OK, but they didn’t really make a choic.

The redgreen government lost, but the opposition did not win.

And Germany accordingly got an election result where there are distinctly more losers than winners.

The first obvious loser is the German economy, and as a consequence Europe.

There will not be the needed reform break-through that would have come with a coalition between the CDU/CSU and FDP.

The second rather obvious loser is unfortunately Angela Merkel. She did an honest and fair campaign, but could only secure a result that was marginally better than the rather disastrous 1998 result and distinctly worse than the 2002 result.

The third loser – but less than expected – is Gerhard Schröder. As usual, he proved to be an excellent campaigner, but at the end of the day his SPD lost more than any other party, is no longer the largest in the Bundetag and he himself is somewhat unlikely to remaimn chancellor of the country.

The only winner in sight is the liberal FDP party. There is no doubt that they surged in the end due to their very firm opposition to any sort of coalition with the SPD. CDU/CSU voters that definitely did not want any Grand Coalition or anything of this sort went to the FDP.

That’s were we are. Now, what to do?

Well, there might still be change. The by-election in Dresden on October 2 could in theory not only decide that seat but matematically also swing a further two.

And that’s critical. With 225 seats in the Bundestag for CDU/CSU versus 222 for the SPD is it the CDU/CSU that has the initiative. If there would be the maximum swing coming out of the Dresden vote in two weeks time, there could in theory be a situation where they have equal number of seats.

That would be a further mess in the middle of the mess there already is.

Expect everyone in German politics to descend on Dresden during the next two weeks.

The different parties now have until October 18th to get their act together and agree on a new government. That’s when the newly elected Reichstag meets in Berlin. Strictly speaking the entire thing need not be ready by then, but if they are not it would really be profound crisis.

Two governments are possible as things stand this Monday morning in Berlin.

Still a big coalition between CDU/CSU and SPD, although no one is keen. Judging by the words exchanged yesterday, it might be that such a coalition, if it happened, would be without both Schröder and Merkel.

And then the rather unorthodox possibility of CDU/CSU, FDP and the Greens. It might seem far-fatched, but is not impossible. This is what is referred to as the Jamaica coalition – black, green and yellor according to the party colours.

The Greens are anti-collectivist in a way that could fit into a changed approach by the CDU/CSU and the FDP. There are significant hurdles to overcome for such a coalition, and it might severly strain the internal cohesion of several parties, but intellectually it might well be the most interesting of the alternatives now on the table.

But it will all take time, be messy and leave masses of casualties along the road. It will not be good for Germany – and not be good for Europe.

It might be a sunny and clear morning here in Berlin as concerns the weather, but everything else is distinctly unclear.

There will be reason to return to the subject.


Greek Cypriot Blockage

17 september 2005

Turkish Daily News – Greek Cyprus hijacks EU declaration on Turkey

According to this rather credible report, it is the Greek Cypriot government in Nocosia that is now trying to do whatever it can to throw sands into the machinery of the membership negotiations between Turkey and the member countries of the EU scheduled to start October 3.

This is hardly surprising. The nationalist credentials of President Papadopoulos are impeaccable.

He was the man that used the most irrendist and xenophobic language possible to defeat the UN peace plan for Cyprus in the referendum last year.

The UN peace plan, endorsed also by the European Union, was the result of years of diligent work, and at the end of the day it was endorsed by the Turkish Cypriots in their referendum.

These things should not be easily forgotten. Now, it has been the Greek Cypriots that have been sabotaging the efforts to bring the island back together again.

I fail to see that one should tolerate them sabotaging also the effort to achieve wider reconciliation and integration in the Eastern Mediterranean.


Strategic Dialogue Between America and the European Union

17 september 2005

bildt.net

At the ongoing 3rd Global Strategic Review of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Geneva I was asked to be the European speaker on the subject of the strategic dialogue across the Atlantic.

On my webpage the interested can find my remarks as prepared for delivery earlier today.


Nerveous Nerveous in Germany

16 september 2005

Umfrage: Allensbach sieht Schwarz-Gelb im Vorteil – Politik – SPIEGEL ONLINE – Nachrichten

If the opinion polls are to be believed, the German election on Sunday is heading for a true photo finish.

In itself this is hardly new. In the 2002 elections, the red-green Schröder coalition survived with only 6000 votes. If anything demonstrates that every vote counts, German elections certainly do.

As nerveousness is increasing, the debate about government alternatives gets increasingly confused.

It should be remembered that this election was called because Chancellor Schröder declared that he could no longer govern on his red-green basis. His own party was deserting his reform policies, and the opposition has secured a solid majority in the Bundesrat.

What Schröder said then applies today as well.

If anything, the SPD is even less likely to be able to carry reform policies after the advent of the leftist alternative on the scene, exposing its flank in a way that was not the case before. If there was to be a red-red-green majority in the parliament, one could magnify everything Schröder said when he asked for the dissolution of parliament several times.

A big coalition is now ruled out by everyone. Although sometimes working not too badly on the Länder level, there are no doubt great risks that it will just get bogged down. And SPD will still have its open front towards the left.

Such a government is unlikely to survive the full four years. And now the possibilities of actually calling new elections have increased. A great coalition should, perhaps, be given a length of two years. Since that it what everyone will be speculating about, election campaign will be round the corner, and not much in terms of serious business will be done.

So there is every reason to hope that there will be a majority for CDU/CSU and FDP. Everything else looks like being very messy indeed.

And I say this in spite of having serious reservations against the CDU/CSU policy on the importance issue of the necessary southeastern enlargement of the European Union.

Whatever happens will be of profound importance.

On Sunday, I’m heading from Geneva to Berlin in order to be at the CDU headquarters as the results start coming in.


New Beginning in Israel?

16 september 2005

Haaretz – Israel News

Where the politics of Israel is heading after the withdrawal from Gaza is of course a most important question.

Yesterday Ariel Sharon spoke to the UN General Assembly in New York, and did so with words that have not been uttered by him before. There is open rebellion in parts of his Likud party, but judgning by this speech, Ariel Sharon will chart a way of his own more in accordance with what seems to be the desire of a majority if the people of Israel.

Details apart, this must be seen as good news for peace in the region and for Israel itself.


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