SPD Meltdown in Berlin

31 oktober 2005

M�ntefering to Step Down as SPD Leader | Germany | Deutsche Welle | 31.10.2005

What a mess! The German Social Democratic Party SPD today managed to throw itself into what might well be the worst crisis in the post-war history of the party.

It was the much too successful revolt of the left wing of the SPD against party Chairman and potential Deputy Chancellor Franz Muentefering that caused the entire thing.

Faced with a devastating defeat when the party central board voted with 23 votes against 14 against his candidate for Secretary-General of the SPD in favour of the standard-bearer of the leftist faction, Muentefering declared that he could not remain as Chairman of the party.


What will come out of this is a anyones guess at the moment. Berlin hasn’t recovered from the initial chock as of yet. And the SPD seems to be in outright turmoil. A commentator noted that not even the Greens in their most chaotic days were ever in such a profound disarray…

In principle, the coalition talks between CDU/CSU and the SPD continue. But that’s in principle. It’s exceedingly difficult to form a coalition with one of the pillars of that coalition in profound disarray. In pratical terms it’s unlikely to work.

Within a couple of weeks the SPD seems to be losing most of the leadership capabilities it once had, only to descend into a state of confusion and disarray.

This isn’t good for anyone. I’m not the one to cry too much for Social Democrats in trouble, but there ought to be a limit to everything.

Ëurope needs a stable and forward-looking Germany.

But today the leftwing of the SPD has throw everything in doubt.

There will be drama in the days ahead.

Global Europe

31 oktober 2005

Global Europe: full-employment Europe

As a contribution to the discussion on where Europe is heading, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown has published a 15-page text on ”Global Europe” that is certainly worth reading.

It focuses on the new competitive challenge coming primarily from China and India, but also to some extent from America. And it notes that ”Europe as a whole is losing ground to competitors in five key areas: growth, labour market performance, skills, innovation and enterprise.

That’s correct, although it’s also correct that this ”Europe as a whole” also contains parts that are doing very well indeed, and which shows what can be achieved. Britain isn’t always among those regions, and that might explain the omission.

The thesis then is that ”from the era of a European trade bloc, we are moving to the era of a global Europe.”

Sounds good, but also neglects the rather crucial fact that the widening and deepening of the European single market is an absolutely key ingredient in any policy that wants to strengthen the global position of Europe.

It’s not two distinct and different phases in the evolution of Europe – but rather two that are now reinforcing each other.

But all in all, it’s a document worth reading and discussing.

Sounds like Norway…

30 oktober 2005

These are intense days on the Swedish domestic political scene. It’s less than a year to the general election in September of next year, and the governing Social Democrats are having their congress in order to try to get their act together and improve their standing with the electorate.

So far, we have heard them promise 10 billion Swedish crowns in new public efforts to improve the care of the elderly. Nice, no doubt.

And just prior to the congress, we had the main centre-right opposition party, likely to lead the next government, promise 5 billion Swedish crowns in a major expansion of public pre-school childcare. Nice, no doubt.

It all reminds me of politics in Norway prior to their election. There was virtually nothing that wasn’t promised.

But there is one crucial difference. They have oil – and we haven’t.

We have taxes. And for what I hear there is a grave risk of us getting more of those…

My Week Ahead

30 oktober 2005

Now and then I get mild complaints that my blog doesn’t really say what I’m doing. Most blogs have more of a personal touch – this one tends to be more focused on the substance of politics.

Since more than a decade back I have been writing a more or less weekly newsletter distributed to a fairly wide audience over the Internet. The limitation has been that they have been in Swedish, but they have included a fair amount of what I have been doing in different respects.

With the blog being more important, the frequency of the newsletter has declined dramatically. In a way, my blog entries are on their way to replace the newsletter, although it will never be the same. The readership is also very different.

Today is a wonderful autumn day in Stockholm, and I have been fortunate to be here the entire last week.

Tomorrow here in Stockholm I will record the first two ”dinners” to be shown by TV8 later this autumn.

We did six ”Dinner with Bildt” one-hour TV programs last year for TV8, and they have since then run several times. TV8 is as close to public service TV as you get in this country, although it is private. And the program is really a dinner conversation with interesting people on an interesting subject.

The programs were evidently so popular that TV( felt that they had to insist that I should continue with some more, and I have agreed although it has been somewhat difficult to fit into my schedule. And the first two of the planned six new dinners are recorded tomorrow.

As for the subjects and the guests – let’s return to that later.

On Tuesday I’m off to Washington for an informal meeting on trans-Atlantic issues that occurs twice every year, once in Europe and once in Washington. It’s a very good group, consisting of people both in and out of office, which over the years have engaged in very open debates on the most critical issues of the day.

And there will certainly not be a shortage of subjects this meeting either.

We meet just outside of Washington, but late Wednesday afternoon I go in town in order to join former Congressman Lee Hamilton in delivering the two keynote speeches at this years main meeting of the Transatlantic Policy Network. TPN is a gathering that brings together members of the US Congress with members of the European Parliament, although it is well attended also by members of the adminitration. As such, it is a most useful forum for dialogue.

TPN goes on until Friday afternoon, but by that time I must already be back in Stockholm on other issues.

Another trans-Atlantic week, as you can see.

Washington Media Firestorm 2

30 oktober 2005

Mr. Libby’s Indictment

It is not without interest that today’s editorial in The Washington Post makes an assessment of the ongoing drama that resulted in the indictment of ”Scooter” Libby very similar to the one I made here yesterday.

They note that the Special Prosecutor has found no evidence or sign of any criminal leaking of information. That was, after all, what he was asked to investigate.

Democracy? Dictatorship? Well, China…

30 oktober 2005

People’s Daily Online — China issues white paper on political democracy

The authorities in Beijing have just published a white paper on how they see what they call democracy in China. Obviously, they felt the need for some sort of explanation.

In it we can read that ”China’s democracy is a democracy guaranteed by the people’s democratic dictatorship”. And it is made very clear that everything is done under the firm direction of the Chinese Communist Party and with ”democratic centralism” as one of the guiding principles.

But the document is not only an attempt to describe everything in rosy terms. We also learn that ”the democratic system is not yet perfect; the people’s right to manage state and social affairs, economic and cultural undertakings as masters of the country in a socialist market economy are not yet fully realized; laws that have already been enacted are sometimes not fully observed or enforced, and violations of the law sometimes go unpunished”.

So the document can be read either as a rather bizarre attempt to try to dress up the regime in some democratic dressing – an effort most unlikely to succeed – or as a way of saying that there is some limited room for change in the system.

Change there will have to be, sooner or later, in the one way or the other.

Whether this rather remarkable documents is intended to stop or promote change is a subject of debate.

The issue will certainly not go away.

New Start with Cameron?

29 oktober 2005


For political parties, the election of new leaders can sometimes be a rather messy affair.

The Conservative Party in the UK hasn’t been spectacularly succesful in chosing its leaders during the last decade. The individuals that have been there with obvious leadershipb potential – a Kenneth Clarke, a Michael Portillo – have all been sidelined, and one has ended up with individuals that have all been heading for failure.

There are numerous reasons for this, but one has been the split in the party over the issue of Europe, and the obsession of its more nationalist wing with getting anti-Europeans to the top and putting this issue forward as one of the most important.

British public opinion might not be the most enthusiastic on European issues, which is hardly surprising if one sees the vitriolic anti-Europen line taken by some of the key media of the country. But they do not want to see their country isolated in Europe, and they don’t want antik-European sentiments to dominate the politics of their country.

Accordingly, the strident anti-European line has taken the Conservative Party from the one failure to the other.

Now it’s in the middle of a new leadership selection process. It’s an elaborate affair. First, a series of votes among the Members of Parliament produced a list of candidates that was eventually narrowed down to two. And now the 300 000 members of the party will vote by ballot in order to choose between these two. The winner will be announced on December 6.

The clear frontrunner at the moment is David Cameron. Young, untested and open on most issues, he seems to embody the hopes for a fresh start. He’s seen as the Conservative version of what Tony Blair once brought to a Labour Party going nowhere.

On Europe, David Cameron is more open than most. It’s simply not been that much on his agenda. But there is no reason whatsoever to believe that he will portray the party as negatively on these issues as some of his successors have done.

On Thursday of the coming week the two contenders David Cameron and Dave Davis are scheduled to meet directly in a TV duel. That’s a first in British politics where duels of this sort don’t even happen in general elections.

At the moment it looks as if David Cameron has established a solid lead in the campaign. We’ll see if that duels will change the situation.

But all together there seems to be an element of new life in and new hope for the Conservative Party.

If nothing else, then the United Kingdom at the very least needs a better opposition.