Rejected by Europe?

31 mars 2006

Suddenly there is an outburst of violence in Southeastern Turkey.

It looks like the Kurdish terrorist organisation PKK has resumed some kind of offensive. They have already officially ended their cease-fire and organized a series of more isolated attacks, but this seems to be a new attempt to stir up more major trouble in these Kurdish-dominated parts of Turkey.

This comes only days after there has been further progress on issues that should be of concern to them. Kurdish-language TV and radio broadcast have now started in Turkey.

It might not be significant as such in view of the fact that satellite TV is available anyhow, including the Kurdish TV station broadcasting from Denmark. But if you see it against the background Kemalist principles and the history of the Turkish state it is a very large step indeed.

During the past years, the process of European integration has contributed to taking much of the wind out of the sails of the Marxist terrorists of PKK. Many Kurds have seen a Turkey in Europe as the means towards fulfilling their different demands.

There are probably multiple reasons for what the PKK is now trying to provoke, but the weakening of the European perspective of Turkey caused by the rather negative debate in a number of European countries is most probably playing its role.

A Turkey that feels betrayed by the United States over Iraq and rejected by parts of European public opinion might well see a rise of nationalism.

The efforts of PKK might well be part of that rise of the forces of nationalism. It’s a profoundly dangereous development.

Does Europe see its responsibility?

Israeli Has Spoken

30 mars 2006

To interpret the political consequences of the results of the Israeli election isn’t entirely easy. The people have spoken – although not necessarily with a very clear voice.

One thing, however, seems clear.

The election showed that decades after the delusions created by the victory in the 1967 war, it has been realized that the dream of Greater Israel has turned into the nightmare of occupation, and that it is high time to wake up.

As it was put in a commentary to the result by the newspaper Haaretz:

The people have spoken: The land will be divided. Thirty-nine years after the start of the occupation, the Israeli nation decided this week to significantly minimize it. After decades of sharp argument, the State of Israel has fully adopted the two-state solution. There’s no way back: It’s the end of the twilight period of disengagement, yes or no. It’s the end of the controversial legitimacy of the separation maneuver. From now on, the question is not if, but when, to where, and how. The Greater Land of Israel is over and done with.

But at the same time as this is the case, the election did not result in a clear endorsement of the disengagement plan of Prime Minister Olmert. The Kadima party created by Ariel Sharon did not do as well as predicted, although it naturally come out on top of the crowd.

So, we are faced with a somewhat uncertain situation.

An end to the dream of Greater Israel. But no clear plan for how to get out of the occupation that is the consequence of this dream.

We will have to wait and see what kind of government is formed and what kind of program on these issues it will announce.

It will be of great importance for the entire region.

And accordingly for us as well.

Europe Against Change?

30 mars 2006

When I left Amsterdam yesterday morning the big headline in morning paper De Volkskrant announced that Europe was in the streets against change.

Europeanen protesteren tegen verandering” was the text all of the first page.

And my Dutch was enough to understand what that meant.

It was of course primarily concerning the French protests against the rather minor changes in labour law introduced by the French government, but the story tied them also to other protests in other European countries at the moment.

Most of yesterday, however, I spent in Paris, partly discussing these very issues.

There is little doubt that there is a deep-seated malaise in French society. It might not entirely be a coincidence that malaise is indeed a French word.

The reasons are deep-seated.

De Volkskrant speculated that we now have a situation in which the young generation in numerous European countries now fear that they will fare less well than their parents did. This then in stark contrast to what has been the case during a very long time.

Indeed, on the labour markers you can see signs of this. Youth unemployment is very high in a number of European economies, with it approaching a quarter in France at the moment.

To this should be added a number of more specific French factors.

A political class that it seen as too detached. A feelings that France is losing its position in Europe. A fear of globalisation that is constantly fed by the national debate on these issues. The ever-present issue of immigration and its consequences for society.

And the mood on some of these issues are different in France than in many other countries.

A recent global poll revealed that only 36% in France saw free markets as the best way of organizing an economy and handling the future. This was well below most other significant countries.

Indeed, the corresponding figures for the United States was 71%, for the UK 66% and for Germany 65%.

At the very top was actually China, where the figure was 77%.

So France is a country where attitudes to the market economy are more sceptical than even in China, and where liberalism – no to speak about so called neoliberalism – is a distinctly dirty word.

The changes that the de Villepin government want to do in the labour laws concerning young people are minor and eminently sensible. It would bring France in line with several other European Union countries.

Their future is now in doubt after the massive protests.

What we see in France illustrates that there is a profound malaise there, but we should also be aware that this is only a part of a wider malaise in the political debate across Europe.

Whether this will prevent further structural reforms or not is an open question.

The real world is still driving reforms.

Ukrainian Democratic Indecision

28 mars 2006

With more than 90% of the votes counted in the Ukrainian election this Sunday, we can now be fairly certain on the result.

As expected, the Party of Regions come out on top with 31% of the vote, heavily dominating the Eastern parts of the country.

But Yulia Tymoshenko did somewhat better than expected with her 23%, and the Our Ukraine party of President Yushenko did somewhat worse than 15%.

One thing remains very important: Ukraine performed a free and fair election according to the standards of Europe. With Belarus being little more than a joke in terms of democracy, and with Russia moving in the wrong direction, this remains of strategic importance.

But the question is of course what sort of government will eventually to emerge out of this.

One can be absolutely certain that Yulia Tumoshenko is dead determined to come back as Prime Minister, particularly since the powers of that position has now been considerably enhanced.

And one can be equally certain that numerous others will do their utmost to try to stop this. Her populist and revenge-oriented policies when she was Prime Minister did obvious damage to the economic development of the country, and there are few signs that she has changed her colours.

Her card is of course to say that the old Orange coalition together with 38% is significantly stronger than Regions, and should accordingly claim the post of Prime Minister. And then it should obviously go to her.

Maneuvering is certain to go on for a considerable amount of time. And the 6% of the Socialists and 4% of the Communists are also parts of the equation.

But whichever the outcome, it is a victory for continued democracy in Ukrainel.

The New Week

27 mars 2006

Another week has started. Still winter in Stockholm.

Today the Club of Madrid of former Prime Ministers is having its Executive Committee meeting here in Stockholm.

Former President of Chile Ricardo Lagos is assuming the chairmanship.

But tomorrow and Wednesday I’m off to Brussels, Amsterdam and Paris for speeches primarily in the prospects for Turkey in the dedcades ahead.

In Paris there will alo be the possibility for somewhat wider talks. And in Brussels concerning the results of the European Council late last week. I would assume that there would also be numereous discussions on how to look at the results of the elections yesterday in Ukraine, although the preliminary results seems to be roughly in line with what I wrote about here last week.

Tomorrow is of course the day of the important post-Sharon election in Israel. And this week the Hamas-lead government is supposed to take over the running of the Palestine Authority.

Thursday I’m back here in Stockholm, but on Friday off to Copenhagen for a speech to the Baltic Development Forum on political and economic prospects in the Baltic world in the decades ahead.

Aitäh, Lennart! Ja huvasti.

26 mars 2006

In Estonian, this means Farewell, Lennart, and Thank You.

This was the day of the state funeral in Tallinn of former Estonian president Lennart Meri.

In a beutiful Nordic weather, Estonia took farwell of its greatest son in modern times.

Together with the President of Finland Tarja Halonen I was honoured to be asked to speak at the farewell ceremony outside the presidential palace.

Unlike Tarja Halonen, who spoke in Estonians, I spoke in English, not only because of the fact that for me there were few other options, but also because I spoke on behalf of many friends across the world.

Here are my remarks at the national farewell ceremony today:

Your Excellencies, Dear Friends,

The re-establishment of the Republic of Estonia after your nations decades of darkness, and its emergence as one of the most vital and dynamic nations of our new Europe, will forever be associated with the ideas, the work and the personality of Lennart Meri.

He was a man out of history who also made and shaped history.

His personal journey – the deportation, the long years when very little was possible, his deep roots in the cultures of Europe – made him uniquely qualified to give the nation of Estonia its moral voice in the world as it again could sign the songs of freedom, of independence and of democracy.

Many of us became his friends during the dramatic years when he served as foreign minister, first of a state that did not exist, and then of a nation that had been born again.

His were seldom the words of classical diplomacy. He was hardly a man primarily of protocol. But he knew better than us all the broad lines of history, the true nature of the changes we were living through and the immense force of standing for what was right.

And these were dramatic years. An old order was coming to its end, although it was by no means self-evident how, and a new order was starting to emerge, although its contours then were not always easy to see.

Lennart Meri gave voice, strength and stability to your nation as§you came out in the light again. He was among those that set you on a direction which today is increasingly making you a model of success far beyond these Baltic lands.

For many of us outside Estonia he was already your President before he was elected as such. And for many I’m convinced he remained that until the very last of his days. He was the foremost of Estonians in our time.

He was the foremost of Estonians and among the foremost of Europeans. He knew only too well that the fate of a small nation is always linked to what happens well beyond its immediate boundaries.

For him, Europe wasn’t only the richness of its diverse cultural heritage, within which his Estonia had its proud place.

For him – in this time of ours – it was also the imperative of building of freedom and democracy and security together, with firm bonds also stretching across the wide Atlantic Ocean and – let that not be forgotten – reaching out to the Russia whose culture he cherished so deeply.

We many, individuals from many nations, who were honoured to be among his friends, will always remember his days.

We shared moments of immense joy as freedom started to break forward, of deep concern when there were dangers of it all being turned back, of true determination when challenges had to be confronted and deep sorrow when deep tragedy struck our two nations of Estonia and Sweden.

In every situation, the voice of Lennart Meri was always the voice of moral clarity, of historical conviction and of a deep commitment to his Estonia and his Europe.

His voice is no longer. But his words and his deeds will be with Estonia and with us for ever.

More than 50 %?

25 mars 2006

In Istanbul I caused a minor stir by saying that I estimated that the risks of both a disintegration of Iraq and a military confrontation with Iran is now somewhat above 50 %.

It’s was not a welcome message – and I would be the first to agree that it is a most unwelcome situation.

But it is always important to be able to look the facts straight in the eye.

Wherever I have discussed the issue in the last weeks – Washington or Moscow – there is profound gloom. Details in assessment can vary, but remarkably little does when it comes to the core of the argument.

There is no disagreement that the Iranians are pursuing a nuclear program which is designed to give them the option of getting also nuclear weapon.

Whether there is a weapons program or not is to a large extent a matter of definition – the program that is there is dual-use in every single part. But it does not seem to have passed the point where elements of it can for certain be described as only military in nature.

That they also want to pursue civilian nuclear power is clear. And in spite of what is sometimes said, there is a logic in this. The country’s vast oil and gas reserves will be used primarily for exports in order to gain hard currency, while domestic uranium could eventually by a useful source of power for the nation itself.

But the quest for a weapons option has deep roots back to the days of the Shah. The program was in fact slowed down after the Khomeini revolution. It’s in recent years it has been given new priority and new resources.

It is undoubtedly linked to the regimes since of insecurity in a world in which it feels itself surrounded by American power. But one should not overlook the fact that it seems to have broad support even among those fiercely opposed to the regime.

Whether diplomacy can convince the regime that it should abstain from pursuing those elements of its programmed deemed unacceptable to an outside world deeply suspicious of its motives is still an open question.

There seems to be numerous talks going on. But there are very few signs of them having any hope of bringing a resolution. Indeed, whoever of insight I ask sinks down into deep pessimism about the prospects for a political solution.

Washington as well as Moscow is determined to prevent Iran from mastering the technology of the centrifuges necessary to enrich uranium. To build and operate one of these centrifuges is a highly complex undertaking, but once one has learnt to build and successfully run one, it’s only a matter of time and scale until one can assemble the perhaps 50 000 necessary for a full production facility.

That’s why the red line laid down by the European trio doing the negotiations has been that enrichment –even on the research scale – should not be permitted. Research could well mean learning to build and run the centrifuges.

And that’s exactly what seems to have happened.

There are now reports that Iran has built a small facility with a small cascade of 164 centrifuges. If true, that points at faster progress than also most intelligence agencies had believed.

A new sense of alarm can clearly be felt around the issue. The question now tops the list of issues of any more important trans-Atlantic political consultation.

Buying time in order to continue to explore the political option is certainly still the by far best policy. Every effort must be done to try to get at least parts of the Iranian leadership off the course towards catastrophe that they are on.

They might think that they have strong cards in any confrontation. That’s also true to a certain extent. But over time there is no reason whatsoever that it is their country that will pay the heaviest price in any long-term confrontation.

The price others will have to pay might also be very substantial, but that does not alter the eventual outcome.

But with the Iranians pushing ahead, and if the new information can be seen as correct and later on verified by the IAEA, it is more likely to be a matter of months rather than years until the issue is brought to its head.

Senator John McCain says that the only thing worse than a military strike is Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. That seems to be the view of many places.

Thus, I stand by my assessment.

And it most certainly add to my general worries about a deteriorating geostrategic situation and deepening worries about developments in the entire area between Jerusalem and Jalalabad.