Travel, Mix, Understand and Change!

28 februari 2005

EUROPA – Rapid – Press Releases

Danuta Hübner is now member of the European Commission from Poland, but in the 1970’s she was just a girl that had the possibility of leaving her country and go to the University of Sussex in England.

Now she’s been back getting an honorary degree and speaking to its students. Her remarks on thge changes her Europe has seen and the tasks ahead are well worth reading.

The future of Europe depends on its ability to change – which is driven by the younger generation.

And she urges the students to ”become beacons of entrepreneurial zeal but alo of tolerance and understanding.”

”Travel, mix with strange people, become cosmopolitan… seek to understand even the strangest of your fellow human beings.”

Elephant Racing Ahead!

28 februari 2005

Economy & Policy

Today has been budget day in New Delhi. Projected to be the world’s larghest country in terms of population in a few decades, the economy of India has also benefited enormously from the liberal reforms of the last decade.

But more is needed, and the new Singh government want to increase the growth rate from the7 % of today towards a sustained growth around 10 %, which IMF and others conside perfectly possible given the right policies.

Todays budget brings a number of tax changes and opens up theecoomy further to foreign investment and trade. It looks good, and the Indian stock market accordingly soared after having seen the details.

I’m certain China takes note – and we should as well.

The Netherlands Vote June 1st

27 februari 2005

The Netherlands has now announced that it will hold its referendum on the European Constitutional Treaty on June 1st.

Before that it is generelly expected that the referendum in France will be held.

And it has now been announced that Denmark will have its referendum immediately after the summer on September 27.

Public opinion is the Netherlands on these issues are likely to be in a somewhat volatile stage. There has been a strong reaction against the perception that the larger powers – read Germany – can do what they want with the Growth and Stability Pact, while the somewhat smaller ones are supposed to adhere to it.

And to this should be added the debate on all of the issues connected with the Van Gogh murder last year. Issues of immigration and integration were certainly at the forefront of the debate when I was in The Hague some time ago.

But against this stands the very strong approval of the Constitutional Treaty by all of the major political parties of the country.

Elections? Real? In Egypt? If so… Great!

26 februari 2005

Aljazeera.Net – Egypt’s leader orders election reform

In a declaration of profound importance, President Husni Mubarak of Egypt has announced that there will be open, direct and contested presidential elections in the country in September.

Previously, President Mubarak has been election four times in a process having very little to do with real democracy.

But with a possible fifth term coming up, pressures – also in public – for change towards a real election have been increasing visible.

It’s not difficult to see that this has been inspired both by elections in Palestine and Iraq and by the public pressure on Egypt from US President Bush. Twice in the last month or so President Bush has called on Egypt to move towards more of democracy.

It remains to be seen what the details will look like. We are unlikely to see an entirely smooth process towards a fully democratic system.

But the genie is out of the bottle, change is the order of the day, democracy can not be avoided and the region is truly changing. It should not be forgotten that Egypt is not only the most populated but historically probably the most significant of all the Arab countries.

So, we are talking about changes of momenteous importance. And not even the most fervent Bush-bashers can avoid giving at the least some credit for all of this to him.

Is There a Plan B?

25 februari 2005

pr_599_britain_no.pdf (application/pdf Object)

As we are now seeing the one referendum on the Constitutional Treaty of the European Union after the other, it’s only natural that the question is asked what will happen if the one or the other country does not ratify the treaty.

The danger seems greatest in the United Kingdom, although it’s much too early to make any predictions on a referendum not likely to be held until Spring 2006 at the earliest.

Charles Grant of the Center for European Reforms has however tried to speculate on what might happen if Britain votes No. In essence, he sees a rather messy future in that case, with interest that are close to him – as well as me – likely to suffer and to be marginalized.

The link is to the press release which has just a summary of his arguments. I’m sure it’s worth reading in full.

Henry Kissinger on Middle East Peace Process

24 februari 2005

kis021005.pdf (application/pdf Object)

Some voices in the international debate are always worth listening to. Henry Kissinger is certainly among them. Coming from a more ”realist” school of international affairs than what is in vogue at the moment, he still brings vast amount of personal experience and historical perspective to the discussions.

Recently he appeared before the Committee of International Relations of the US House of Representatives with a rather hard-nosed assessment of the situation.

For those of us who have been listening to and reading him for mant years by now, this in his special way seems like a remarkably upbeat assessment of the prospects ahead.

A Far Away Country of Which We Know Little…

24 februari 2005

Meddling Raises Stakes in Moldova

Beneath the headlines of the global media, things are heaing in Moldova prior to the March 6 parliamentary election.

Sliced between coming EU member Romania and reforming Ukraine, but with the break-away Russian-run and criminals-infested enclave of Transdnestr dividing the country, the country is exposed to numereous different forces.

At least since the Ukraine presidential election, politics is changing in the entire post-Soviet area. We see circles in Moscow taking a far more aggressive approach in terms of trying to interfere to prevent political developments from going in a direction they don’t like.

In this article you will encounter the name Alksnis as one of those now active on this circuit. For anyone remembering the details of Russian nationalist attempts to undermine the stability of Latvia it’s a name that have the alarm bells ringing.

A Swedish Dilemma

23 februari 2005

A Swedish Dilemma

Chrisopher Caldwell of the influential US magazine The Weekly Standard came to Sweden in the middle of the winter to see how we are coping with the issues of the welfare state and immigration.

Always an astute observer, his reflections as now published in The Weekly Standard are certainly worth both reading and discussing.

Big Future in Small Change

23 februari 2005

Breakup of Yukos hits output in Russia

It’s often the small changes that indicate trends of profound importance for the future.

Russian oil production is no longer increasing, and it seems as if the next few years will bring no change in this respect, with the risk that there will even be a decline thereafter.

The reason is that old production fields are starting to mature and decline, and that there hasn’t been enough investment in either transportation infrastructure or in the opening up of new production fields.

This is not likely to change in the near term. With the Kremlin determined to control more and more of the oil sector, few foreign investors are likely to rush in. The Yukos affair has been a watershed for Russia.

The geopolitical implications of this are immense. If there a few years ago was the hope that we could start reducing our dependence on oil from the Middle East by relying more and more on Russia, this no longer seems a viable option.

The problem is that there are hardly any other viable options. The growing appetite of a growing global economy – not the least rising Asia – will have to be meet by increasing production around the Persian Gulf.

Our global dependence on this volatile part of the world is set to increase in the years ahead. It’s not an entirely comfortable prospect.

A Vote for Peace

22 februari 2005

Turkish Daily News – Call for settlement

In an important vote, the electorate of the Turkish part of divided Cyprus gave increased support to those politicians in favour of European integration and an overcoming of the division on the island based on the UN-designed and EU-approved peace plan.

This is bound to increase pressures on the nationalist government of Greek Cyprus to overcome its rejectionist and obstructionist approach to this important issue.

It’s one of the last important unresolved conflicts of Europe.

Bush in Brussels

21 februari 2005

Remarks by U.S. President George W. Bush at Concert Noble

Here the policy speech that President Bush gave in Brussels at the start of his present European tour. Policy is best understood when viewed – or read – in full.

In my view, this was a good speech.

He placed the Middle East peace processes squarely in the centre also of the US-European relationship, and noted its centrality also to the wider efforts for stability and democracy in the wider Middle East. He was clear in what he asked of the Palestinians, but equally clear on what he asked of the Israelis.

In the spirit of previous speeches, he talked explicitly about the need for political reforms in Saudi Arabia, and wished that Egypt would take a lead in the development of democracy in the region.

And he called for Europeans to help with the state-building work in Iraq – ”the regions youngest democracy.”

It is also worth noting that he wanted issues of democracy and the rule of the law to be put at the hearth of our dialogue with Russia.

In contrast to policy pronouncements from Washington in the recent past, the issue of fighting terrorism came only towards the end of the speech. This certainly did not downgrade the importance of these issues, but indirectly implied that there are other issues that needs to be tackled and that can also give their contribution to the fight against global terrorism.

In short, a good start to an important visit.

Losers United in Kiel.

21 februari 2005

There was unexpected drama in the state elections in Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany.

Opposition CDU did far better than had been anticipated, gaining 5, 0 % and becoming the largest party in the state for the first time since the 1980’s. And the red-green coalition lost very substantial ground, with the SPD losing 4,4 %.

Still, the end result is likely to be that the red-green coalition survives in office with the support of the primarily Danish minority party SSW with their 3,5 % of the vote. It will be, needless to say, a weak government.

But the Schleswig-Holstein election sends a powerful message concerning trends leading up to the key state elections in Nordrhein-Westfalen May 22. That’s Germanys biggest state, and the key state election leading up to the September 2006 federal election.

While the federal government under Chancellor Schröder has been gaining ground in the opinion recently, Schleswig-Holstein shows that it’s still very much an open question who will govern Germany after next years election.

Compact Between Europe and the United States

20 februari 2005

us_europe_compact_feb16_05.pdf (application/pdf Object)

To give some stimulus to the debate, a group of individuals of the Centre for European Reform in London and the Brookings Institution in Washington has drafted a compact between the European Union and the United States seeking solutions to most of the issues that have aroused controversy across the Atlantic in recent years.

It’s an interesting, constructive and forward-looking document they have produced. It’s well worth both reading and discussing.

It has my support although it does not have my signature. The reason is that it does contain some statements that I could not agree with.

But that’s another way of saying that the debate must continue – it is of the greatest importance for the future.

More European Union – Less Europe

19 februari 2005

When President Bush comes to Brussels, it will be a visit different from previous visits by US Presidents in town.

In the days gone, it was all about the old alliance, centered on NATO and focused on the issues of a divided Europe.

After some rather rocky years, we are now seeing a new structure and pattern slowly emerging.

Now, it is about building a new partnership, centered on the European Union and focused on issues outside of Europe.

It’s different in several respects. A partnership is different from an alliance. There is an implicit recognition that the dominating agendas on the different sides of the Atlantic are different, but that both the United States and the European Union need the support and help of each other for their respective agendas and on the wider global scene.

While the relationship with NATO has by no means been downgraded – it’s critical also in far-away areas like Afghanistan – it’s obvious that the relationship with the European Union has been upgraded.

And while in the past the agenda for the talks was focused on the different issues and challenges of the European continent, now it will be centered on issues outside of, although adjacent to Europe. The conflict-ridden Middle East, and the de-democratizing Russia, is the near abroad of Europe but also the core concerns of the United States.

A new partnership with more of the European Union and less of Europe – that’s what we will now be seeing.

Chinese Internet Shutdown

19 februari 2005

China Says It Shut Down 12,575 Internet Cafes in Three-Month Crackdown – from

It’s not the first time. But now there has obviously been a new offensive by the authorities in China against use of the Internet not controlled by them.

Nearly 13 000 Internet caf’es were closed since they did not have the necessary permission. And part of this permission is the installation of software that blocks and controls access to sensitive sites.

Pornography, they say. Certainly. But it seems as if democracy is considered even more dangereous.

Intifada III in Israel

18 februari 2005

Haaretz – Israel News – Intifada III

Things are really heating up in Israel. Extremist elements are mobilizing everything to stop the Prime Minister Sharons plan to evacuate all settlements in Gaza.

And there is fear in the air. It’s soon 10 years since extremistis murdered Prime Minister Rabin because of his commitment to peace with the Palestinians.

Both Abu Mazen in Palestine and Ariel Sharon in Israel are now struggling with their extremists. Let’s hope that they both win. The alternative would be catastrophic.

Retreat of Democracy in Russia

18 februari 2005

AslundTestimony050217.pdf (application/pdf Object)

The week before President Bush is to see Russian President Putin in Bratislava, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US Senate had open hearings on what’s really happening in Russia and the consequences this will have.

Among those called by the Committee was Anders Åslund. He spoke without exaggeration of the changes we have seen as a part of the ongoing de-democratization of Russia. A mild authoritarian regime is now ruling Russia, according to Anders.

This is worrying both for Russia and the rest of Europe. There is no reason why an open and democratic government can work in Russia. And there is no doubt that more liberal and reform oriented economic policies would facilitate a better long-term economic and social development of the country.

Lisbon Revisited

17 februari 2005

The battle is on for the future direction of the policies for economic reforms in Europe. In late March, the heads of state and government of the 25 member countries will meet in Brussels to review the relative failure of the last few years and to look ahead.

On the centre-left there is a slow guerilla warfare against the more ambitious approach taken by Commission President Barroso and his team. The Swedish Minister of Finance – the man who wants to further increase the world’s highest taxes – has joined the battallions of leftist grumblers.

But the reality is that there is a need for more rather than less of reforms in the years ahead.

The pro-reform Lisbon Council is an NGO advocating exactly this in the European debates. It’s worth reading its reaction to the Barroso proposals and the debate surrounding it.

Los Primeros Con Europa

13 februari 2005

policybrief_constitution_july04.pdf (application/pdf Object)

The First in Europe – That’s the slogan for the campaign for a Yes in the referendum on the Constitutional Treaty of the European Union in Spain February 20.

It’s the first in a long series of referendums throughout Europe during 2005 and 2006 – and Spain wants to be seen as giving Europe leadership on the issue.

The first of the referendums is a good reason for getting updated on the substance of the Constitutional Treaty.

Here you find the policy brief from the Center for European Reform on the issue. It’s an excellent summary.

Hebron Horrors

13 februari 2005

Israel Policy Forum

For those interested in the daily reality of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank I recommend reading this describtion from the city of Hebron.

It’s written by a representative of the Israeli Policy Forum of the United States. He and I shared much of this experience when we were in Hebron during the Palestine presidential elections in January.