Norway Decides

10 juni 2005

. . . og n�er Fr.p. nest st�rst i Norge – Aftenposten.no

Soon, Norway will move on from celebrating the achievement of full state independence a century ago and focus on what it intends to do with its future.

On September 12 there is election to the Norwegian Parliament – the Storting.

Today’s opinion polls points towards the possibility of a red-green thing coming to power in Norway at the same time as they are seen as a truly spent force in the rest of Norway.

The Labour party comes out as the strongest party, but it’s still very weak if you compare it with its golden days in the past. Any result below 30 per cent must be seen as a confirmation of a long-term decline.

Nevertheless, they might get into power with the Socialist Left Party and the Centre Party.

They are both distinctly off-centre, and none more so than the Centre Party.

It has been opposed to Norway entering into virtually any international agreement that has to do with trade and the economy. It is protectionist and isolationist in its very genes.

On the centre-right side, everything isn’t lost as of yet, although the situation is far from good.

The populist Progress Party is gaining ground again, while the Christian People’s Party of Prime Minister Bondevik is hovering in the lower reaches of support and the Conservative Höyre is experiencing a sudden weakening of support.

So far, the political debate prior to the election is difficult to detect.

With the economy doing extremely well and no one wanting to discuss Norway’s marginalisation in Europe, there doesn’t seem to be much around to excite anyone.

It’s a pity.


The Wonders of France

10 juni 2005

There is a somewhat bizarre element to news coming out of the Fifth Republic these days.

The referendum they had was about the Constitutional Treaty for the European Union. But looking at what’s been happening since the resounding Non in it you begin to wonder.

On the issue that was lost, the message from Paris is that everything must continue. Ratification should proceed in other countries as if France and its referendum didn’t existed.

But on issues of domestic affairs, there is sudden change everywhere. President Chirac said the referendum wasn’t about the government, and then demonstrated that it really was by changing it.

Now, Prime Minister de Villepin has presented his policies to the National Assembly in Paris. It wasn’t much – but he is still saying that this will give the French economy a new start within 100 days.

But his words are remarkable when he says that ”the French people know and say with force that globalization is not an ideal, it cannot be our destiny.” It’s words in the same tradition as when the President distanced himself from the alleged ”ultraliberalism” of the Anglo-Sachson countries.

But the way of the future is the way of globalization. Also the way of the future for France.

Europe has a choice. We can build borders and barriers towards the rest of the world and present what’s out there as a threat. Or we can create an open Europe that works for an open world and sees all of the possibilities that this brings.

To choose the policies of the wall is to choose a destiny of long-term decline. To choose the policies of the web is to create the possibilities for being part of a world that moves towards better possibilities for everyone.

As long as leading politicians of Europe sees globalization as a threat we are heading for trouble. The battle for the idea of globalization is also a battle for the future of Europe.

Prime Minister de Villepin is on the losing side of history. I hope France will not be there as well. It has much to contribute.


The China Debate

09 juni 2005

Conflict is not an option – Editorials & Commentary – International Herald Tribune

Just days after Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been touring Asia warning about the consequences of the growth of Chinese military capabilities, Henry Kissinger warns against a policy that is seen as confrontational with China.

The two men clearly agree on the significance of the issue. As Kissinger puts it:

As a new century begins, the relations between China and the United States may well determine whether our children will live in turmoil even worse than the 20th century or whether they will witness a new world order compatible with universal aspirations for peace and progress.”

But that’s to a large extent the end of the agreement. The one sees military containment of China as the priority, while the other sees political engagement as the policy to be pursued.

Be certain that the debate will continue – and it’s certainly an important one.


China’s Cyberwall Higher and Higher

09 juni 2005

China Tightens Restrictions on Bloggers and Web Owners – New York Times

There are new reports on new efforts by the authorities in China to control the Internet, and now also the power of bloggers when it comes to spreading information.

They wouldn’t do this if they were not nerveous. At the end of the day, the measures taken irritate hugely, but is likely to have a limited effect on those that really want to know or spread information around.

But their nerveousness is an interesting information in itself


Concern in Moscow

09 juni 2005

There is obvious confusion inside the solid walls of the Kremlin in Moscow.

I spent the beginning of this week in a summerwarm Moscow discussing not the least the relationsship between Russia and the European Union. Since then – but that’s another story – have I been to Oslo for June 7 and I’m now briefly in the United States.

The obvious confusion in the Kremlin I’m thinking of isn’t primarily related to the state of Russia. It concerns the European Union. Time after time I’m asked where Europe is now headed and which are likely to be the consequences.

There is no Schadenfreude in these questions in Moscow. It’s obvious that Russia feels the need for a European Union that can be a reliable and predictable actor and partner also in all of the questions that the EU and Russia has in common.

We are, said a Russian in authority, interested in a strong and coherent European Union. ”We would like to have a partner, an interlocuteur and a neighbour.”

Whether I was able to give them convincing answers to their questions is somewhat doubtful.

I tried to say that on practically all issues concerning the normal functioning of European integration things will continue to move forward. The existing treaties are OK – although not ideal – for the time being.

It’s when it comes to enlargement that one immediately encounters a more problematic situation. And that could have disturbing consequences.

Universally, there was expressed the hope that the European Union gets its act together as soon as possible.

The concerns of Moscow probably reflects the concerns of the world. And one would hope that Europe will listen.


June 6 and Sweden

06 juni 2005

Today is the National Day of Sweden – and for the first time ever it’s also a national holiday. A slight rearrangements of holidays have made it possible also for Sweden to have its National Day as a holiday.

I happen to think that this is a good idea. I would however also be in favour of making May 9 as the Day of Europe some sort of holiday.

The only problem is that we have to work as well. Holidays are good for happiness, but not necessarily for the GDP. And it’s out of the GDP that most things at the end of the day are paid.

Why June 6?

Well, it was on June 6 in 1523 that Gustav Vasa was crowned as King of Sweden, thus really starting the history of the modern Swedish state.

Prior to that there had been the Union of Kalmar which had brought Norway, Denmark and Sweden together in a relationship that at the end of the day did not work out. Gustav Vasa was the young noblemen that led the peasants of Sweden in a rebellion to throw out the so called foreign masters, mainly the Danes. That he did it with great subsidies from Germany wasn’t that much part of the public story at the time.

That was the first June 6.

The second was in 1809 as a new constitution was enacted, which was going to last until 1974, when on June 6 as well another one was adopted.

When Sweden broke away from the loose Nordic union, it broke away as a unified country of what is today Sweden and Finland. But in 1809, as a result of another failed war with Russia, what is today Finland was separated from what is today Sweden and come under the authority of the Tsar of Russia in St Petersburg.

In the meantime, Denmark had continued to rule Norway, but also this come to its end as a result of the turmoils of the Napoleonic wars, and Sweden and Norway entered a very loose union in 1814. This union, as I have written about earlier, effectively was terminated by the Storting/Parliament of Norway on June 7 1904.

Thus, we see the gradual emergence of the present pattern of national states in Northern Europe after a past that was far more in common. Finland, of course, gained its indepence as a result of the collapse of Tsarist Russia and the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.

So, there we are.

In a thought-provoking small piece in Dagens Nyheter today, its political editor Niklas Ekdal concludes by saying that if the European Union did not exist today, we would clearly have to invent it very fast, while if the present Nordic national states didn’t, it not a sure thing that they would have to be invented.

Perhaps we would live happily with our more regional identities within a firmer and larger European framework. Perhaps.

But we are were we are, and today we celebrate the National Day of Sweden.

It’s not necessarily the greatest thing of the day in Moscow – were I spend the day – but I hope it is at home in Sweden.


Clear but Divided Swiss Result

05 juni 2005

Avoiding to cut itself completely off from the rest of Europe, the Swiss voted in todays referendum to endorse the agreement that makes it possible for them to join the Schengen area of passport-free travel in Europe.

It was a clear result. 58 % voted Yes, and 42 % accordingly voted No.

As usual, there was a distinct split along cultural lines. The French cantons voted very clearly in favour and the Italian canton of Ticino voted against. That’s the usual pattern on issues like these.

The German-speaking canton were more divided. The business hub of Zurich and its related small canton of Zug voted in favour, as did the large canton of Bern. But the hearthland of the Alps and Eastern Switzerland voted against in the way they usually do.

Another referendum in the autumn, which will extend labour market freedoms in Switzerland also for those coming from the new EU members states, is likely to be thougher.

The Swiss have lost their old self-confidence. Isolation not longer works – but for many integration is too uncertain an alternative.

The nation is drifting.


Politics of Fear – Swiss Version

05 juni 2005

Schweizerische Volkspartei SVP (Homepage). Union D�mocratique du Centre UDC (page d’accueil).

Today there is a referendum in Switzerland primarily on the treaty that would make it possible for the country to become part of the Schengen area of free travel in Europe.

You would think that this would be fairly uncontroversial.

But it’s not. The backward-looking Schweizerische Volkspartei (SVP), which has been growing visibly during the latest election, is conducting a campaign of fear in order to get voters to say No.

Posters depict a woman screaming in horror over the prospects of losing both her security and her job if the treaty is approved.

In the rest of Europe, Schengen is today a normal part of daily life. Even non-EU member Norway is part of the arrangement. Few would see it as a threat – most would see it as one of the gains of European integration that is now a normal part of our societies.

But these are field days for the politics of fear. Even in Switzerland.


The Non of Verdun

04 juni 2005

The Battle of Verdun and the number of casualties

In the city of Verdun, 52,8 % voted Non in the referendum on the Constitutional Treaty for the European Union.

Verdun isn’t any city in France, and the result there isn’t any result.

The battle for Verdun was one of the most horrible of the horrible battles on the Western Front during the First World War.

Even today, a visit to Verdun is a chilling reminder of the brutal reality of war. Large areas are still off-limits. Battered by artillery. Poisoned by gas. Filled with remnants of those thousands after thousands that were killed.

But Verdun is also a symbol of the reconciliation between France and Germany that is at the very core of the efforts at European integration and, eventually, the European Union.

It was here that French President Francois Mitterand stood hand in hand and in silence with German Chancellor Hemuth Kohl in one of the most significant symbolic scenes of the last half-century.

But now Verdun votes Non.

There are two ways of looking at this.

One is to see it as a true sign of the success of the European Union. Peace in Europe has been made so secure that it is taken for granted. The spectre of war has disappeared from Verdun – and we should remember that this was the purpose of the entire exercise. Success.

The other is to see it as a strong message on the need to develop and explain a new story on the necessity of European integration.

Obviously, the peace issue is seen as resolved in wide parts of Western Europe. Apart from appeling to people to understand that this isn’t necessarily the case in other parts of Europe, what is there that can be side to support further efforts at Euopean interation?

Perhaps we should say that integration has brought not the least young people the possibility to travel freedly across borders and to study in other countries. We have got cheaper mobile phones and cheap low-cost airlines all over Europe. Borders are rapidly losing in importance.

The Non olf Verdun vividly shows that we need a new story of Europe in the age of globalisation in order to get and retain the support of the voters for all that we are trying to achieve.

Ambitious goals – but without ambitious goals we know that we are doomed for failure.


Words of Wisdom from Zagreb

04 juni 2005

Ured predsjednika RH – ENGLISH�

Zagreb in Croatia has been the scene of a high-level meeting discussing Southeastern Europe and European integration during the last two days.

It was a meeting dominated by concerns over where Europe is heading after the debacles in France and the Netherlands. There are very genuine worries in the region that they will just be dumped and neglected and the consequences this would have.

The President of Croatia Stjepan Mesic warned explicitly of the dangers and challenges ahead.

He wanted, that ”there are unfortunately those who think that we can and even should revive certain ghosts and myths of the past. This is simply a delusion, however a delusion which – if translates into politics – could have fatal consequences.”

”It is possible for us to go back to the collective hated and fear that ruled this area for centuries. It is possible for us to go back to the priviligies and selective application of laws, which is a realm for new divisions, discrimination and isolation.”

The European Union, this is how I see it, is tired of enlargement, while we, countries in transition, are tired of transition. This, however, should not become a new line of division on the continent… The process of European integration should be brought to a conclusion, without too much hesitation.

Wise words from a wise man.

These days one has to go to Zagreb, Kiev or Riga to see and feel the tremendous importance of the European Union and its integration.

Brussels has descended into itself. Member countries are in sudden political disarray.

And the tabloids and much of the rest of the media are discussing the wages of members of the European Parliament went issues of war and peace, freedom or semi-authoritarianism, are still on the table in important parts of Europe.


Misdirected Glee

02 juni 2005

Why The French Vote Was Bad For America

There has been a fair amount of glee on the other side of the Atlantic over the political mess in France after the defeat of Chirac in the referendum on the Constitutional Treaty.

Some seem almost genetically inclined to believe that what goes wrong for the Elysee Palace and France has to be good for the White House and United States.

Well, there are also voices thinking several thoughts in row before they put pen on paper. Philip Gordon at Brookings is one of them. He’s a leading expert on European affairs.

And he certainly fears that things could go from bad to worse from the US perspective.

Dominique de Villepin is now the Prime Minister of France. Few persons are more universally loathed inside the beltway than he is. He’s seen as the incarnation of everything that’s wrong with France from the US point of view.

He’s even a poet…

And the Non forces are now calling for more protectionism, more state interventions, more regulation and a far firmer French front against the so called ultra-liberalism they see as threathening their sacred way of life.

Their European Union would in fact be a far more interventionist, protectionist, centralized and closed entity than is the case at the moment – or would have resulted from implementation of the Constitutional Treaty.

So it would be appropriate to hold the jubilation and glee over there within fairly strict limits.


A Hundred Year’s Ago

02 juni 2005

1905 – A Peaceful Separation (The Centennial Anniversary Norway 1905-2005)

I have spent a day in Helsinki taking part in the celebration of the 30th year anniversary of the beutiful Swedish-Finnish cultural center at Hanaholmen in the Helsinki archiepelago.

There, we also spent an evening discussing how we in 2009 should commemorate the momenteous event in 1809 when Sweden lost Finland and it was placed under the rule of the Tsar of Russia.

Up until then, it had been a completely unified state. The separation was – needless to say – an event of the greatest importance for both nations.

We discussed it in the light of the ongoing commemoration of the dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway in 1905 – a hundred years ago. That was the modern birth of the independent nation of Norway.

It was a peaceful affairs, although with some background rumblings. But it was a union so loose as to make it questionable if the word union was even correct.

The same person was King of Sweden and King of Norway. That’s was it. And then there was the gradual establishment of a rudimentary foreign service, and that become the source of the dispute that ultimately sealed the fate of the union.

It was on June 7th 1905 that the Norwegian Storting took the decision that the King of Sweden was no longer to be seen as the King of Norway.

It was a dramatic time. Only days before, virtually the entire Imperial Russian navy had been destroyed by the Japanese navy in the Tsusima Straits between Japan and Korea.

June 7th is on Tuesday next week. I will be in Oslo then, although on different business, establishing even better links between the high-tech venture capital business on the top of Europe.

But history always count. If we don’t understand history, we will not be able to face the future.


Well, Another One…

01 juni 2005

telegraaf.nl [Nieuwsportaal van Nederland]

The Dutch vote on the Constitutional Treaty is much more clear than the French one – 63 % No with a 62 % turnout of the electorate.

We’ll see, but I expect this to spell the end of the bizarre charade of some European leaders saying that everything must just move on and the French and the Dutch and the possible others must simply be forced to fall in line the one way or the other…

It’s simply not going to happen. Worse, the very effort might well be damaging to what we are trying to achieve.

When in the Netherlands earlier this year, it was not difficult to detect an undercurrent of suspicion that the Union had started to treat different countries differently and that they were simply not prepared to accept it.

To a large extent this is a question of Germany. That’s not an entirely uncomplicated subject in the Netherlands.

They had to adhere to the more rigorous version of the Stability and Growth Pact. But Berlin just said that they couldn’t care less and that it was Brussels rather than them that had to change.

Things like these are not quickly forgotten. For the Netherlands, it makes a difference if their neighbour is a Germany that puts Europe first or a Germany that puts Germany first.

I suspect that a part of the Dutch rebellion today is a rebellion against the bigger preaching the law to the smaller while putting themselves above the same law.

A not unfair point, by the way. And one that must be taken into consideration in the years to come.


Beware of Instability Ahead!

01 juni 2005

Europe must keep its ‘soft power’

Suddenly we have a new debate on whether the enlargement of the European Union should continue or not.

It’s a vitally important debate for everyone concerned with the stability of Europe.

Let us be clear: if we backtrack on the commitment to an enlargement of the European Union with the countries of Southeastern Europe, neither the continued European reformation of Turkey nor the reconciliation and reintegration of the war-torn socities of the Balkans has much prospect of going forward.

In fact, the risk of backsliding is very great.

If the Union pulls back from its commitment to enlargement, there is a serious risk that these societies start to backtrack on their commitment to European values and stability.

And that’s my message in an OpEd article in the Financial Times today. The link is to the Centre for European Reform website, since you can find it there as well as on the FT site.

There are those saying – Angela Merkel of the CDU in Germany among them – that we can’t overburden the Union and that we must bring the citizens along.

That’s certainly correct, and there has been much sinning in the later respects during the last few years. I know of few political leaders that truly have tried to carry the message of the virtues of globalization and the enlargement of the Union to their respective electorates.

Leadership has been profoundly lacking.

But to leap from this towards a populism that sees Polish plumbers as a threat to the social fabric of Europe, or plays towards rude anti-Muslim prejudicies to stop Turkey, is irresponsible in the extreme.

There is reason to be worried. We’ll see what comes out of the French debate on these issues.

And we’ll see if CDU in Germany manages the delicate balancing act between irresponsible populism and sceptical leadership on these issues during the coming election campaign.


Putin’s Prisoner

01 juni 2005

Kremlin’s Win Is Russia’s Loss

After three weeks of further farce in the courtroom in Moscow, it was finally announced that Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been sentenced to nine years in prison.

The Moscow Times today writes about ”a blast of Siberian winter smacking us right in the face.”

That’s unfortunately what it is. Russia is a country of vast potential, and an important part of the better Europe we are seeking to build.

But without the rule of the law Russia risks degenerating into a stagnating and bureaucratic petro-autocracy.