The Great and The Good of Brussels

30 november 2005

So it was the great and the good of Europe and Brussels getting together for the annual EV50 dinner.

Black tie in Palace d’Egmont as tradition dictates. Candidates and hopefulls mingled with the general crowd in anticipation of the results of the vote.

Some years ago I remember that a substantial number of the awards were collected by different Irish representatives. The fact that the entire thing is presided over by former European Parliament president Pat Cox of course then added to the Celtic dominance of the evening.

This year was different. If there was a tendency here, then it was in the Eastern direction. An awareness of a new Europe is slowly coming to Brussels, even if there were tendencies in the other direction as well.

There were Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian and Finnish names all over the place this evening. With Poland emerging as the star performer.

The Statesmen of the Year award went to outgoing President of Poland Alexandr Kwasniewski. During his last week of his ten year presidency, he was undoubtedly in a good mood this evening, thankning everyone for what had been achieved, and noting that these were the years when his country had been able to enter both NATO and the European Union.

But he didn’t stop with this, but delivered political pointers for the future as well.

Most importantly, he made a passionate appeal for a membership perspective for Ukraine in the years to come. ”Ukraine needs Europe and Europe needs Ukraine.

And he went on speaking about the need to see Europe as much more than the sum of the national self-interest of the member countries. ”Europe is not only a combination of nations – Europe is a value in itself, and our common great opportunity for the future.

Needless to say, words like these are distinct crowd-pleasers at a gathering like the one yesterday evening.

But Poland was also honoured with Journalist of the Year with Anna Marszalek.

Non-European of the Year become President of the Ukraine Viktor Yushenko, which of course added to the impact of the Kwasniewski appeal.

And the Baltic touch was certainly there with former President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari becoming Diplomat of the Year for the peace agreement on Aceh, and Dalia Grybarskaite from Lithuania becoming Commissioner of the Year for her struggle with the budget of the Union. Among the nominated commissioners was also Finland’s Olli Rehn.

If there was another tendency it was one that might not have been entirely to the liking of Microsoft in spite of the company belong to the sponsors of the evening. Michael Richard become Member of the European Parliament for his opposition to too stringent software patents, and Florian Mueller Campaigner of the Year for his campaign on the very same issue.

The intellectual property issues are obviously as keenly felt as the Eastern enlargement issues.

As European of the Year emerged non other than Prime Minister Jean-Claude Junker of Luxembourg¨. Fresh from a battle earlier in the day with the European Central Bank he conceded that it has been ”a very difficult year”, but he at the least was grateful to the voters of Luxembourg that they had said Yes to the constitutional treaty when everyone else had voted no, and dedicated his price to them all. That they also preserved him in office went unmentioned.

And after all these words of wisdom we headed for the drinks, the gossip and the much too late beer with further gossip in the delightful athmosphere of the Place Sablon.

Another year. Another dinner. Another bunch of European contributions.

Nuclear Come-Back in Europe?

29 november 2005

In all sorts of different ways, energy policy will be high up on the agenda of Europe in the years to come.

In a sure sign of this, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has now announced that he would look at the possibility of building new nuclear plants in order to replace those that are beginning to age, and that accordingly will have to be replaced with something.

In fact there are few good alternatives to using nuclear power. To replace nuclear power with some version of fossil power would clearly endanger the Kyoto objectives that not the least the Blair government has attacked such importance to.

So what Blair is doing now is sending up a trial ballon. If it flies OK, then I guess he will forge ahead with what would then be the most significant new program of nuclear energy in Europe for decades. And this is bound to influence other countries.

Finland is already building a fifth nuclear plant. Sweden is upgrading its existing ten units as much as it can. And throughout Central and Eastern Europe there will be a need to look anew at the nuclear option in the years ahead.

Europe needs to face reality also in terms of its energy policies.

We can not increase our dependence on non-renewable and fossil fuels beyond present levels.

And that makes nuclear power an almost unavoidable option for the future.

äSpeech to the CBI Conference 29 November

Best Tax System in the World?

28 november 2005

Is the Estonian flat tax system ”the best tax system in the world”, as claimed by Prime Minister Andrus Ansip when he hosted the visiting Prime Minister of Finland Matti Vanhanen a couple of days ago.

Ansip even thought that it would be a good idea to have the system introduced in Finland, and although Vanhanen did not reject the idea outright, it’s obviously not imminent.

But whether it is the best system in the world or not, there is no doubt that the model once introduced by Mart Laar in Estonia is gaining ground very fast.

The impressive growth record of Estonia, and its attractiveness for investments, is certainly a contributing factor to this. Success invites imitation.

The idea was somewhat prematurely injected in the German election campaign. Although it did electrify the CDU campaign for a while, it eventually backfired as one wasn’t really prepared for the debate. It did not score that well in the Polish election campaign either, although it was not a major issue.

Nevertheless, there is no mistaking the idea gathering ground around Europe.

It will be one of the hottest topic of debate, primarily in Northwestern Europe, in the next few years. And it might well be one of the most significant chances of major success of these countries in the decades ahead.
Helsingin Sanomat – International Edition – Foreign

Euromediterranean Future

28 november 2005

There are evidently problems at the Euromediterranean Summit still under way in Barcelona in Spain. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a tendency to make itself known more or less everywhere.

Whether the Barcelona meeting now will go down in history as an important one or not remains to be seen, but the relationwship that it discusses is certainly one of the most important.

Once upon a time the Mediterranean united what was then the civilized European world. You could argue that it had the Eastern rather than the Western Mediterranean as its core, and it was certainly as present on its southern as on its northern shores.

But that was a long time ago.

Today, across the Mediterranean runs one of the greatest gaps in wealth to be found in the present world. And while its northern shores are in demographic decline, population along its southern shore is more or less exploding. Add to that the difference between the stable democracies on the one shore and the unstable and more or less authoritarian regimes on the other.

It’s a relationship not without its challenges.

It was a decade ago that the European Union launched its so called Barcelona process. The aim was to further the economic and political development in the wider area. Later, it has to some extent been included in the new Neighbourhood Policy of the Union.

And the summit these days is supposed to take stock of the relationship.

Euromediterranean summit of Barcelona- THE MEDITERRANEAN, A POINT OF ENCOUNTER

Europeans Of The Year

28 november 2005

Among the things on my agenda this week is the dinner in Brussels at which the Europeans of the year will be announced.

It’s an annual thing organized under the auspicies of the newspaper European Voice. And I happen to be one of the members of the advisory panel since a couple of years back.

We put up the names, and then its a system of online voting that decides which persons get the different awards in the different categories.

And all comes together in a dinner that brings together the great and the good of the Brussels-centered European political system for a nice evening.

:: EV50 – The Europeans Of The Year ::

Anniversary in Kiev

27 november 2005

Last week saw the one year anniversary of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. A mass meeting in Kiev evidently turned into a rather bittersweet affair, if the account in Kyiv Post is to be believed.

Now all eyes are on the upcoming March elections. They will decide whether the politics of the Ukraine will get stuck in a populism more interested in the past or whether it will truly enter a path of reform aiming for a European future.

The coming week will see important meetings in Kiev. It includes a summit meeting between Ukraine and the European Union.

Over the coming weekend I will be heading both to Kiev – rather briefly – and to Donets in Eastern Ukraine in order to get a better feel for the mood in the country.

It was the East that voted against the Orange Revolution a year ago, but Ukraine can hardly go forward decisively if not also the political forces dominating there become part of the process in the one way or the other.

It will be an interesting week in Kiev – and for me an interesting weekend in Donets.

Kyiv Post. Orange Revolution anniversary protests turns bittersweet

Lessons of War and Peace in Bosnia

27 november 2005

On Friday, we had a most interesting and well-attended discussion at the European Policy Center in Brussels on the lessons of war and peace of the war in Bosnia.

A more detailed account of the rich discussion will follow, but in the meantime this newswire from AFP gives at the least a summary of the discussion.

BRUSSELS, Nov 25 (AFP) – Europe must learn the tough lessons from the war in Bosnia or be doomed to repeat them elsewhere, senior diplomats involved in the Balkan conflict 10 years ago warned on Friday.
A decade after a war that claimed some 200,000 lives and left more than two million homeless, the diplomats emphasised the need for focused diplomacy backed by force, then robust peacekeeping and concerted rebuilding efforts.
”There are new challenges around the corner of the same nature waiting for us,” Carl Bildt, EU special representative to the region in 1995, told experts, reporters and other participants at a conference in Brussels on Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war.
”From Bihac (Bosnia) in the northwest down to Basra (Iraq) in the southeast, the struggle between the forces of integration and the forces of disintegration goes on, that might be Kosovo or it might be Kurdistan,” he said.
Bildt, talking at the invitation of the European Policy Centre, with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and former EU peace negotiator Lord Owen, said politicians had badly under-estimated the horror the war would bring.
”This was a fundamental, a tragic mistake of historic proportions,” he said. ”Always do everything that can be done to avoid war breaking out, because when it breaks out you are out of control.”
”We need to learn the lessons from Bosnia: be very assertive in preventing the conflicts from breaking out, looking at the underlying currents, trying to settle with reasonable political deals, and the possibility to deploy military force to support diplomacy,” he went on.
”Then have the resources, the commitment, the patience and the time that is going to be needed for the state-building projects … all through this period.”
Owen, speaking as Bosnia marks the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords, agreed on November 21, 1995 and signed that December 14, said Europe must not allow itself to be insulted by people like former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic.
”If you are serious … you can’t allow a warlord to cock a snook at you. We didn’t learn that in Somalia, and now we are seeing it in Darfur,” he said.
Mladic and former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic have been indicted for war crimes and still remain at large, 10 years on, which Owen described as ”a disgrace”.
The former British foreign secretary said that ”hard peacekeeping” — in which a robust military presence enforces peace and exits quickly to be replaced by traditional peacekeepeers — was also vital in dealing with conflicts.
”Hard peacekeeping must be done when you’re really serious and I doubt that it’s something for the EU or for the UN. I believe that is really going to be done by NATO or other regional military alliances,” he said.
Solana, who was Spanish foreign minister at the time and later led NATO, said that politicians need to act together closely with the military as soon as a potential conflict is identified.
”A clear lesson from the Balkan dramas is that when the European Union, the United States and NATO are united and work together, they can achieve great things,” he said.
He said the fact that this was done so late in Bosnia resulted in tens of thousands of needless deaths.
”The price of nationalism and our collective failure to end the fighting was very high,” he said. ”We got peace, yes, and ended the nightmare, yes, but a peace that came late and was full of painful compromises.”
And on the day that Bosnia begins talks on a stabilisation accord with the EU, a first step on the long road to joining the bloc, he said hopes for membership had been a decisive factor.
”The prospect of eventual European Union membership has been no doubt the overwhelming transformational force in Bosnia,” he said.
In the end though, Bildt said, prevention is far better than a cure.
”In retrospect the number one lesson of the Bosnian war is that we should have done more in order to prevent it from starting at all,” he said.