A Modern Monarchy

30 april 2006

For some, monarchies might look somewhat anachronistic in our modern world.

But the reality is often different. And Sweden is certainly a case to that point.

That’s been very obvious these days as we have been celebrating the 60th birthday of King Carl XIV Gustaf.

It’s been somewhat hectic.

A major private party at Drottningholm Castle yesterday – well, into the very early hours of today. Truly great party! And then a big official luncheon in Stockholm City Hall given by the Parliament and government.

Tonight there is a more formal dinner at Stockholm Palace, but I’m not there. I’m at more traditional Swedish celebration of the arrival of spring. A remnant, I would guess, from long gone pre-Christian days.

Carl Gustaf become king at the age of 27 in 1973. His grandfather – the previous king Gustav VI Adolf – had died the evening before the general election of that year. As a very young man, Carl Gustaf had to take the throne in a age of uncertainty and a mood of radical changes.

The role of the head of state was also changed into a more ceremonial one as the new constitution come into force in 1975.

Much has happened since then, and today there are hardly any divided views on the way in which the king has been performing his role as head of state. It is fair to say that he is widely both respected and popular.

Presidential system are not necessarily bad, but there is no doubt that it has a value when it is possible to keep the institution of monarchy and make it comptible with all the institutions and princples of modern democratic governance.

Sweden has succeeded.

And a lot of the credit undoubtedly goes to King Carl Gustaf.

In addition, he’s a truly decent and nice guy.


Brussels Forum

30 april 2006

Due to the fact that we here in Stockholm are busy celebrating the 60th year birthday of our king Gustav Adolf I had to leave the Brussels Forum before its ending today Sunday.

But there is no doubt that the meeting was a success. A new forum for dialogue and discussion across the Atlantic has been established.

Senator John McCain set the tone with his keynote speech on Friday evening. It was a robust presentation of what could be described as the Washington consensus on key issues, notably on Iran.

He repeated his mantra that the only thing that’s worse than a military strike against Iran is Iran managing to develop a nuclear arsenal.

But whether this is also the Brussels consensus wasn’t clear when I had to leave the discussions mid-day Saturday.

On Russia, John McCain was as critical as the Washington consensus nowadays is, b ut went somewhat too far in attacking the Russian position on Iran.

It so happens that Washington and Moscow are in complete agreement as to the aim of policy on the issue, but differ on the means, notably on whether sanctions could really work. That’s a perfectly legitimate debate.

In a follow-up discussion, much of the attention went to the situation in Darfur, although I have to confess that the amount of empty posturing was rather large. Particularly on the US side there is a tendency to say that it is genocide – and that someone else should do something.

It sounded great when John McCain and Richard Holbrooke said that NATO had the assets there and ready.

Well, the fact is that NATO has only a single-digit figure of people in Darfur, and even the robust options now under discussion does not take that up to more than in the low two-digit range. Darfur is on the size of Iraq – and there it is painfully obvious that 130 000 soldiers are having a hard time.

Javier Solana was right in pointing out that there has to be a political solution, and that the EU is playing an active role in the Abuja talks.

But Richard Holbrooke was equally right in pointing at the imperative need of financing the humanitarian efforts there. At the moment, the World Food Programme efforts there are short of money.

So the discussion continued on the one issue after the other, with all the others taking part in the Brussels Forum also active.

A session Saturday morning dealt with the economic challenges we have to deal with. As soon as I find a link to some of the good speeches there I’ll write a few words about that.

The Big Benefit

28 april 2006

During discussions in Berlin yesterday I was truly amazed about the level of ignorance even among well-informed Europeans about the enormous benefits of enlargement.

A well-established and respected academic argued that a problem with enlargement was that there were short-term costs while the benefits where more long-term.

This, he argued, made it difficult for the political leaders to argue for enlargement.

But this is pure – if I’m excused for the expression – bullshit.

The Eastern enlargement from Estonia to Bulgaria is probably the most succesful thing the process of European integration so far has achieved. Ten countries with a 100 million people have managed a change of system that has contributed to the peace and prosperity not only of their countries but of Europe as a whole.

If this is not a short-term benefit, I fail to see what a benefit could be.

This applies also in purely economic terms.

On my flight earlier today from Stockholm to Brussels I come across an interesting article on the subject in the Danish business daily Börsen.

It’s a report presented jointly by Danish Federation of Industries and the Danish Metalworkers Federation, and it is based on a study done by Katinka Barysch at the Centre for European Reform in London.

The conclusion is that enlargement has created approximately 35 000 new jobs in the Danish economy. While Danish exports in general have increased by 17 % since 2004, exports to the new member states have increased by 42 %.

What applies to Denmark would apply to an even higher degree to economies as the German and the Austrian one.

Not the least Austria – which in political terms has always dragged its feet over enlargement – has made enormous economic gains. Its economy has benefited very substantially, as can be clearly seen in the development of the Austrian stock market.

Other studies published in the last few weeks have shown the advantages of free labour markets.

Ireland has seen a very large influx of people from the new member countries – but unemployment has been sinking in spite of this. There has been a noticeable boost to the already impressive Irish growth rates as a consequence of its decision to go for the full benefits of enlargement.

That’s the way it is. The figures are clear.

Enlargement has been an enormous and immediate benefit also to the old member states.

It is high time that political leaders started to communicate this to their respective electorates.

Securing Elections in Congo

27 april 2006

Now, we are rapidly moving towards the first deployment of the so called ”battle groups” that the European Union decided on a couple of years ago.

Most of them are still in the process of being formed. It’s a rather demanding process to create quick-intervention battle groups of this sort.

But the demand for them is obviously there. Now, the UN Security Council has voted unanimously to ask for the sending of 1 500 EU soldiers to help securing the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Their task is to be a back-up force for the 17 000 UN soldiers in the MONUC force as Congo undertakes its first fully democratic elections for 40 years. This is necessary in views of the fact that there are still rebel forces active in different parts of the country, and they must be deterred from trying to wreck the election.

On the ground in Kinshasa the elements of the force that will be there will be under French command, but the overall command will be with the German military Hq in Potsdam not very far from where I’m sitting in southwestern Berlin at the moment.

Germany will be, in the language used, the framework nation for this mission.

It’s been a rather long and complicated story to get this force agreed to. There was considerable reluctance in Germany for a long time. Others where also slow in committing the necessary forces.

But now it’s moving ahead.

And it demonstrates again the important role that the EU military capabilities can play in backing up demanding UN operations in different parts of the world. We have learnt by rather bitter experience that there is a need for a hard edge also to softer operations – we are often dealing with evil forces.

The Congo elections – date not yet set – are likely to be held in late June or early July, and the EU mission will last approximately four months.

Hopefully the EU force will remain just a back-up force for deterrence – securing the elections just by being there.

A most important mission for the European Union. Supporting the United Nations. And democracy.

Trouble in Tomsk?

26 april 2006

Having arriving in Berlin for different discussions, the themes here are not too different from those in London.

Chancellor Merkel and six members of the government have gone off to Tomsk in Siberia for the first big summit with Russia of her govermment.

Together with a large business delegation, they are meeting President Putin and a sizeable chunk of the Russian government.

Issue number one of the rather large agenda – judging by the media reports – seems to be energy. Surprise, surprise.

And the first round of talks centered around these issues seems to have been rather difficult. Seeing Merkel and Putin briefly meeting the press after the talks, it was obvious that there were distinct limits to their agreement on the issue.

Before meeting Merkel, Putin had taken the occasion of a speech to local representatives to repeat the message that if Russian demands are not meet then the gas will be sold to China rather than Europe.

If that is not pressure, then I don’t know what pressure is.

Tomorrow will bring more information. Chancellor Merkel flies back to Berlin. And we will all have to listen carefully to her assessment of the talks.

In the meantime we are continuing our discussions on the future of Europe in the lovely green surroundings of Gruenewald in southwestern Berlin.

The Gas Battle Ahead

25 april 2006

It’s a major battle that is shaping up between the Russian gas giant Gazprom and the European Commission.

And it will have major ramifications for both the European Union and Russia.

In London yesterday and today I have been discussing these issues and what is likely to happen.

When Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller meet the EU Ambassadors last week he was clear in developing the vision that guides the development of Gazprom.

He is undoubtedly genuine in his wish to develop close links with the major West European markets. In much the same way as we want supply security, he naturally wants demand security. This is a necessity also in view of the enormous investment needs that Gazprom faces in the decades ahead.

But it is obvious that when we want as open, transparent and competitive markets as possible, Gazprom wants to establish a position where it can use monopoly pricing powers in the future. And here we obviously have sharply diverging interests.

You can see this in three different facts.

First: They want to get control of the distribution networks as much as possible. That control they have in Russia through Transneft and are now aggressively seeking in other parts of the CIS area. They are manoeuvring to get control in Ukraine, recently succeeding in getting it in Armenia and are now putting heavy pressure on Belarus. And there are clear signs of them wanting to gradually push this approach as far towards the West as they can.

Second: They are very firm in their efforts to block other European states from independently accessing the considerable gas reserves of Central Asia, notably Turkmenistan. This was a key part of their dispute with Ukraine earlier this year, and we see how they are now repeating that position in more general terms. There is no doubt that this is very important to them.

Third: They have reacted very aggressively to the recent message by European Commission President Barroso to President Putin that, in much the same way as the Commission is applying European competition rules to Microsoft, it reserves the right to do so against Gazprom.

According to Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller, it was these words of Barroso that lead President Putin to rush to China and to seek to sell the gas to them instead of to Europe.

When he meet the Ambassadors of the European Union in Moscow last week, he explicitly said that if the European Commission intended to apply the competition rules against Gazprom they would simply not sell to the European Markets. It was as blunt as it was clear.

These three facts together of course add up to a rather worrying picture. The energy-political complex of Russia is seeking to extend a situation of virtual monopoly control of gas supply and distribution as far to the West as they can.

Although their ambitions are clear enough, their chances of success are far less so. But ultimately it will depend on the policies that the countries of the European Union adopt.

And that will be the subject of further discussions.

We want as open, free and transparent market for energy in as large parts of Europe as possible.

Certainly within the European Union. But preferably also beyond.

And there is no reason why the European Union should not use its existing acquire the new instruments necessary to assure this.

That’s truly in the interest of everyone – not the least of Russia.

Tomorrow I’m off to Berlin. Rest assured the issue is high on the agenda there as well.

A Week of Europe

24 april 2006

Monday morning, and very soon I’m off from Stockholm in the direction of London. Again.

Now it is primarily energy security that is on the agenda.

After the latest rumblings from Gazprom in Moscow the issue has increased even further in importance on the European political agenda.

What Gazprom is saying is, effectively, that if we are not allowed to develop structures on the European gas markets that will give us monopolizing pricing power, we are not interested, and we’ll sell our gas to the Chinese.

A fairly blunt message.

In London I’m part of a meeting that is part of the policy review undertaken by the new Conservative Party leadership. Today it’s international issues that are in focus, and I have been asked to address the different energy security challenges ahead.

And that I will continue to do at another meeting in London on Tuesday before returning home to Stockholm.

That will however be a brief visit. On Wednesday morning I’m off to Berlin for a two day session of a Strategy Group on the Future of Europe organized by the Bertelsmann Foundation and bringing in, among others, Austrian Chancellor and present EU Presidency Wolfgang Schuessel.

Here, I have been asked to address the different emerging challenges on the periphery of Europe. Of which there are not few.

After spending Thursday evening in Stockholm it’s Brussels that’s on the agenda for Friday and Saturday.

There is the first meeting of what is called The Brussels Forum. It’s meant to be an annual high-level gathering dealing with different trans-Atlantic issues. Senator John McCain is one of the US keynote speakers, and Commission President Barroso another.

Although not on the formal agenda, it’s unavoidable that there will be discussions on Iran as well. It is on Friday that the IAEA will issue its report on Iranian compliance to the UN Security Council.

The Brussels Forum goes on until Sunday, but for other reasons I’ll have to get back to Stockholm on Saturday afternoon.

It will be a week of Europe and European issues.