Iran Debate Continues

12 april 2006

With the debate over what to do with Iran intensifying by the day, IAEA Director-General El Baradei has just arrived in Teheran in order to assess the situation on the spot.

That will be a highly important visit in a number of different respects. His report on the Iranian issue to the UN Security Council, due on April 28, might well be one of the most important document in the realm of international affairs this year.

We should have learnt from the Iraq experience that information from inspections, although not necessarily perfect, are the by far best source on nuclear or other programs. After the UN inspectors left Iraq in 1998, US intelligence was more or less blind about what was happening.

And if things are better now is debatable. US News & World Report today quotes a Member of Congress just having attended a secret briefing on the Iran issue without being overly impressed by the quality of the intelligence available.

But irrespective of this there is no doubt that the Iranians are intending to move forward with some form of nuclear options. You don’t need an intelligence agency to see that – it’s enough to listen to what they are saying.

They have just celebrated that they have managed to enrich uranium.

Certainly very limited quantities, and most certainly well below anything that would be even remote to what is called weapons grade, but still something that does represent a technological advance on their part.

So it all then boils down to whether this should be accepted or whether there is the readiness to do whatever it takes to stop or at the least slow them down.

El Baradei will certainly do what he can to convince them of ceasing all enrichment activities. But the chances of him succeeding are, realistically speaking, not very large.

And then we are back to the big debate about the military option.

Washington Post today has an interesting column by David Ignatius that looks at some of the big-picture issues that a military strike would be associated with.

Among others, he quotes Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter:

I think of war with Iran as the ending of America’s present role in the world. Iraq may have been a preview of that, but it’s still redeemable if we get out fast. In a war with Iran, we’ll get dragged down for 20 or 30 years. The world will condemn us. We will lose our position in the world.

That might well be the case. But that’s not necessarily an argument that cuts too much ice in the American debate.

Invading additional countries is definitely not an option after the Iraq experience. But the bombing myth is still strong in the political culture. Remember how the Clinton administration used bombing fairly frequently without that causing much of a debate.

So the debate goes on.

The role of El Baradei will be most important.

And voices like those of Zbig Brezinski definitely should be listened to.

It will be a momenteous decision when it comes.

Washington Perspectives

11 april 2006

Arrived in Washington and arrived in a weather far more summer than anything.

From here, Europe at the moment looks like a rather messy place.

The Italians don’t seem to agree on who lost the election. Well, looks like Florida, I suppose. And the French look totally lost on what to do with their economy.

And in the media here todaÿ one reads about US worries about the possibilities of terrorism coming out of the Muslim populations of Europe.

Here it’s the immigration legalislation that’s been thed big issues during the last few weeks. Yesterday saw massive demonstrations in favour of giving rights to illegal immigrants.

But in terms of politics the news is dominated by Iraq and Iran.

President Bush is in Des Moines talking about Medicare. That’s a question of mobilizing the elderly in view of the upcoming mid-term elections in November. The ratings for his presidency has hit a new low, and the Democrats are – by default, primarily – ahead on most issues.

Still, it’s Iraq and Iran that dominates the news.

Senior military commanders questioning thed judgement and leadership of Donald Rumsfeld.

And speculations concerning what to do with Iran.

Familiar issues. Will become even more so.

First Class Thinking

10 april 2006

Departure very early tomorrow morning for Washington. Again. I think it’s my third time this year.

I’m there the next few days for one of the two meetings every year of the Board of Trustees of the RAND Corporation.

It is the world’s first, finest and probably foremost think-thank. It’s first class thinking.

For some years I have been proud to be the first and only non-American on its Board of Trustees. But now I’m even more proud that RAND is continuing its evolution from being not only an American but also a global resource by moving towards appointing a second non-American trustee.

From India. That’s the new world.

So it will be two intense days discussing the different activities of RAND as well as reviewing some of the most interesting of the research products RAND has produced during the past six months.

And then it onwards to other activities in the Washington area.

More about that later.

Instability and Intrigue in Italy

10 april 2006

There was a long time when few really cared about the politics of Italy. Most of the Italians certainly did not. But the economy went from strength to strength, and few really cared about the intrigues of Rome.

But that was another time. With the euro and with globalisation, Italy is facing a huge need to reform its economic governance structure. Suddenly politics is starting to become an issue of some consequence.

As the results of the Italian election are now coming in, it seems like the country is heading for the worst of all possible worlds.

A clear victory for the one or the other would have been the best – not that I’m overly impressed with either. But there would have been a clear responsibility for what would be done – and not done.

Now we seem to be heading towards a Berlusconi coalition hanging in there by the thinnest of margins.

It will certainly test the mental tolerance of many other Europeans. It is a fact that for many his style is an affront to decency in general and to the standing of Italy in particular.

But it seems as if he has managed to convince a part of the electorate that a vote for Prodi would mean giving real power to the real communists of Bertinoti. Unfortunately, there was an element of thruth in this.

But now he is sitting with a total dependence on the provincial populists of Lega Nord. Previously, he could have asked them to go to hell if they tried to blackmail him into even stranger politics.

With this result he can’t. There is a risk of provincialists driving populists.

That means a weak government, perhaps openly populistic, and not very likely to last for the full parliamentary terms.

Rome will return to its intrigues and instabilities. The burning economic issues will be defered to another day.

Not good. Mildly speaking.

Policy for Disaster?

10 april 2006

As Israeli artillery sends their rounds into Gaza in respons to recent rocket attacks, the foreign ministers of the European Union meet in Luxembourg to discuss what to do with aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

There is a deep irony with what is now happening around Gaza. This is how the situation is described by Israeli security officials at the moment:

Hamas is close to a decision on initial steps aimed at restraining the terror organizations that are launching Qassam rockets at Israeli targets, Israeli security officials said yesterday.The planned Hamas move comes on the backdrop of an Israeli military response that has killed more than a dozen Palestinians in Gaza since Friday.

The Qassam attacks on Israeli targets over the last week have been carried out by various Fatah groups. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Hamas-supported Popular Resistance Committees have not been participating in the rocket fire, the security sources said.

Suddenly we have a situation in which Hamas is trying to stop attacks against Israel, while it is Fatah-affiliated groups that are continuing them.

Still, the European Commission on Friday decided to suspend all payments to the PA. Israel has previously decided not to give the PA the tx income that rightly is theirs. And on Sunday Norway decided to follow the European lead and stop all payments.

If carried through fully this policy will lead to an economic and social meltdown in the occupied territories. Different forms of humanitarian aid will simply not be able to compensate for the collapse of the public authorities and their services.

The political consequences of such a meltdown are of course highly uncertain, but the chance that it will lead to popular opinion loving Israel and the Western world more is, to put it mildly, not too large. In all probability, the contrary will be the case.

We might well be fuelling precisely those sentiments in the occupied territories and in the Arab world that we instead should seek to marginalize.

It would be far better to have a more graduated response that awaits and judges the policies actually carried out by the Hamas-lead government. With such a policy we would also retain leverage and influence over the process. At the moment there is a serious risk that we are shooting ourselves in the foot also by taking away our leverage.

To me it all seems rather ill-considered and short-sighted.

I can understand that the European Commission took a more precautionary position on Friday awaiting the final word from the Council of Ministers today. And in that situation Norway probably didn’t have much of a choice in taking its decision.

But to do nothing more than this would be a stupidity.

We have enough of problems in the Middle East not to be interested in creating additional ones.

Something Rotten in the State of Sweden (4)

09 april 2006

I have to confess that I never thought this series of comments about the state of the politics of Sweden would have to be that long.

But we are where we are. And the politics of Sweden continues to be the politics of the scandals.

The last week was one that I suspect few Social Democrats would like to live to see again.

Legal cases were opened – with considerable publicity associated with them – against three prominent representatives of the party.

The first is against no lesser person than Prime Minister Göran Persson himself.

For the time after he is Prime Minister he is busy building a rather impressive manor house in the countryside south of Stockholm. It is obviously more feudal than proletarian in inspiration. That fact in itself has been the subject of lots of comments.

But it now turns out that the building works – done by a firm run by his brother – has not been respecting elementary parts of the legislation for the protection and safety of the workers. And infringements are so serious that he will now be prosecuted for the violations of the law.

Needless to say, these laws are a key part of what the Social Democrats consider their contribution to a good society.

In my opinion, the case says more about the complicated laws than it says about the Prime Minister, but that’s not necessarily the way the media sees it.

The second legal case was opened against the Social Democratic leader in Malmö in the southernmost part of Sweden. Being the third largest city, it’s also the one of the major cities that is Social Democratic.

He is now accused of having taken a bribe in the form of a safari trip to Africa two years ago.Mediawise, that does not look too good either.

But it’s the third case that’s the most spectacular – and competition is fierce.

Anna Sjödin is the ambitious and up-and-coming leader of the youth organisation SSU.

Together with her entourage, she was caught in a fist fight of the first order in a bar in Stockholm some weeks ago. She was so drunk and so aggressive that she had to be taken away by the police and spent the night in their custody.

Now the public prosecutor is indicting her on no less than five different counts for what happened. And the indictment does not make nice reading.

Apart from all the time threatening the local guards as well as the police with their higher level connections with the Minister of Justice and the Social Democratic Party, she is said to have been screaming rascist insults to some of the guards. There are several witnesses to this.

To say that this points to a character flaw is one thing.

But more serious is the attitude of contempt for others, of being above, of being part of some type of new nobility that can do whatever it wants.

In that respect, there is a link between the Sjödin affair and all the other ones.

Lying to parliament, building mansion houses without checking the law, contempt for law and order etc, etc…

Power does corrupt.

Nuke the Nukes?

08 april 2006

Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker magazine is a reporter with good connections and a good track record of reporting.

His piece now on planning in Washington for a possible military strike against Iran is bound to be widely debated.

He claims that using nuclear weapons to strike at deep underground sites used by the Iranians is one of the options in the different plans.

Perhaps. Military planners have a tendency to include all sorts of options in their papers in order to explore them more fully.

But even if I consider the possibility of a strike against Iran as more than 50%, I would consider the possibility of them using nuclear weapons to take out the nuclear facilities to be in the one-digit range at the very most.

The political arguments against are much too overwhelming.

Whenever in the past different nuclear options have been on the table – and it has happened repeatedly – they have fairly rapidly been taken off the same table.

Add to that the fact that I’m not certain that they have nuclear warheads that are suitable for what is called deep earth penetration. Funds to develop such have been stopped by Congress repeatedly.

It’s not easy to have a nuclear warhead diving and digging itself deep down in a mountain before exploding. They tend to disintegrate and break up fairly fast when crashed into the ground.

Of course you could compensate for the absence of that capability by having a much higher yield on a ground-burst warhead.

But not even the nuttiest planner would put that even as an option.

The unlikely nature of the nuclear part of the story apart, the story is certainly worth reading.

Nothing too sensational.

But – apart from the nuclear weapons part – nothing too unlikely.

Towards Post-Blair Britain

08 april 2006

With new flights serving London City Airport from Stockholm, the distance to London has suddenly been somewhat reduced.

Good. Although it’s still shorter from Stockholm to Moscow than fram Stockholm to London.

The politics of the United Kingdom is distinctly in a mood of transition. New Labour is fading, and it might well be that New Conservatives are rising.

There was a telling little piece of information from Tony Blair’s press conference in Armagh. It was the one on Northern Ireland that I have written on earlier.

Just before the press conference was to start, it was suddenly decided to block over all the Exit signs that are normal in any room used for public gatherings.


Well, of course to prevent a clever photographer from getting a photo of Tony Blair with the Exit sign immediately above him. For certain – they would have tried.

That’s the big issue at the moment: when will Tony Blair hand over to Gordon Brown?

Everyone expects it to happen well within a year. Reports are already talking about people in the Cabinet talking more to Brown that to Blair. The Prime Minister isn’t quite a dying swan, but looks increasingly like a dead duck.

This naturally has implications for all sorts of issues. In Washington they will be thinking about the implications for Iran policy. In Brussels they are thinking about a whole series of other issues.

What will it mean if the New Labour of Tony Blair is replaced with more of Old Labour in the form of Gordon Brown?

At the same time the New Conservatives under David Cameron are continuing their extended honeymoon with the media. Opinion polls have weakened slightly, but four months is a very short time.

The Cameron crowd is deliberately thin on policies. Too thin, it is beginning to be said in circles that count.

But the ongoing Spring Meeting 2006 could partly change that.

One has descended on Manchester in order to try to demonstrate that the Conservatives isn’t only a party for the rural foxhunters and the wealthy suburbanites, but also for inner city people. There are local elections coming up May 4th, and in the last ones the Conservatives didn’t manage to win a single council seat in Manchester.

Old warriors are being brought back under the flag.

Michael Heseltine was once the darling of the party and the not unlikely successor to Margaret Thatcher, although it did not work out that way. But his credibility when it comes to inner city issues is beyond doubt.

He’s now leading the charge in Manchester.

But when looking at what’s happening within both parties, one can not avoid the suspicion that the post-Blair era now slowly starting will be a more inward-looking one in the politics of Britain.

And that’s not necessarily good for the rest of the world.

Another Clash of Civilisations

07 april 2006

Less than half a century ago, Europe was tearing itself apart in a great clash of religious beliefs.

Wars lasted for more than a century, and for all that has happened since, the Thirty Years War is still the most devastating of conflicts to have affected the centre of Europe.

But there are areas where it still seems to go on.

The media in London this morning is mainly about a dead swan in Scotland having found to have had the H5N1 bird flue. And then there is Great Ascot tomorrow and the Queen’s approaching 80th birthday.

But there is also reporting on the Prime Ministers of the UK and Ireland meeting yesterday in ecclisiastical capital of all Ireland Armagh in order to try to save the peace process in Northern Ireland.

There is peace in the sense that the violent IRA campaign is over, as are the also Protestant counter-campaigns. But to get a peace that means coming together in a common democratic system in Northern Ireland has not proved possible yet.

It was in 1998 that the Good Friday Agreement was concluded. And between 1999 and 2002 there was power-sharing in the Stormont Northern Ireland assembly between the Sinn Fein – seen as the political arm of the IRA – and the Ulster Unionist party.

But then it all collapsed due to a murky story of an alleged IRA spy ring in the assembly. And since then it has not been possible to resurrect any sort of power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland.

Not everything of what’s been happening is crystal clear. The alleged IRA was spring should have been run by Denis Donaldson, who was one of the key men in the Sinn Fein leadership. But everything come out in a different light when it was later disclosed that he had been a British agent inside the IRA for two decades.

Then, of course, come his brutal execution in the remote cottage in a remote place in Ireland where he was hiding earlier this week.

Against this not entirely uncomplicated background the two Prime Ministers declared that they will recalled the suspended Stormont Northern Ireland assembly in May and then attempt to elect a First and FDeputy First Minister and form a power-sharing executive.

They will give that process until November. If nothing has happened by then they’ll give up and try some other route.

Tony Blair explained the difficulties of a peace process of this sort:

The problem is that the Good Friday Agreement can provide procedures, mechanisms and laws. What it can’t do is to enforce a belief in the other’s good faith. It can only come through a genuine conviction.

And that genuine conviction isn’t there as yet.

Tranquility has been returned to the divided cities of Ulster very much through a separation of the two communities. In Londonderry – or Derry – a ”peace wall” has been erected to separate the Protestant and Catholic – Unionist and Republican – communities.

Yesterday was the 80th birthday of the firebrand presbytarian preacher Ian Paisley who is now leading the DUP party that is the largest on Northern Ireland. He should be the First Minister, sharing power with the Sinn Fein he considers just a cover for the terrorists in the IRA.

Will it happen? Yesterday he was firm:

The DUP will in no circumstances be in the business of putting terrorists and criminals into the government of Northern Ireland.”

For him, it’s all a question of preventing Ulster from ever being ruled by the Catholics of the South or – by implication – the Vatican and the ”anti-Christ” that he has declared the Pope to be.

The two Prime Ministers yesterday sought to put discreet pressure on Mr Paislry by hinting that the alternative they saw if the present approached failed would be to give Dublin a greater say also in Northern Ireland.

That, for Mr Paislay, is of course more or less like the Devil hemself descending into their daily lives.

The threat did not seem to change him that much. He declared that ”I can’t be bought, I can’t be borrowed and I’m not going to bend.

It’s a true clash of civilisations. In his view.

But slowly, slowly the ground is shifting in favour of a real peace.

But clashes of civilisation are not sorted out easily.

Global Cooling?

06 april 2006

In the middle of everything else that is happening, one might note what is not happening.

The arrival of spring.

Today should have been the day when Vaxholmsbolaget – the company whose boats are serving the wide Stockholm archipelago – should have switched from their winter to their spring timetable.

In practical terms, the heavier and slower boats able to go also through the ice would have been joined by the lighter and faster and more numerous boats piling over the open waters.

But that has not proved possible this year.

There is still too much ice in different parts of the archipelago for the more regular boats to be able to resume their services to the numerous islands.

Global cooling setting in?

Or the Gulf Stream disappearing from the North Atlantic?

Or simply one of these things that nature does?

Strategy in London

05 april 2006

After some days of work in Stockholm I’m heading off to London for the rest of the week.

It’s primarily for a meeting of the Council of the International Institute for Strategic Studies that is headquartered there.

We normally meet twice a year or so to review and plan the activities of the Institute. I think it’s fair to say that it is considered one of the most respected – if not the most respected – in this area in the world.

The IISS is perhaps best known for its flagship publications in the form of the annual Military Balance and its sister publication Strategic Review. There are also a stream of interesting so called Adelphi Papers. One launched tomorrow by Professor Lawrence Freedom promises to be interesting.

But then there are the highly significant major meetings that the IISS is running.

For decades there has been an annual conference. These are now called Global Strategic Review, and will this year be held in Geneva in September.

In more recent years, two major new conference series have started.

The first was theso called Shangri-La Dialogues. They are held in Singapore, and is really the only occasion where senior defense and security officials from all parts of the region as well as from the United States are sitting down for informal discussions.

The 5th conference in this series will be held in Singapore in June.

Then there has been started a Gulf Dialogue along the same lines, centered aroundthe Arabian or Persian Gulf and all the security challenges there. It has obviously got far more topical, and promises to become even more so.

The next Gulf Dialogue will be held in Bahrain in December.

So it’s fair to say that the IISS is keeping itself at the centre of some of the most critical of the strategic issues of our times.

This we will certainly discuss. But in the usual way I believe we Council members will spend some time in informal discussions on the issues most topical on the global agenda. And it’s not too difficult to guess which one that would be – Iran.

But then I’m home in Stockholm over the weekend before proceeding early next week to Washington for a more than week-long stay in that area.

Danubian Deficit Drama

04 april 2006

It’s not only Italy that faces a certain drama as it goes to the polls on Sunday.

This will also be the day of the first round of the Hungarian parliamentary elections.

For a long time opposition centre-right Fidesz had a commanding lead in the opinion poll.

But during the election campaign the ruling Socialists – descendents of the old Communists – have gradually improved their standing and the latest opinion polls allowed showed them with an extremely marginal lead.

It was 32 versus 31% – well within any margin of error. And it was more than a week before polling day.

In fact, the outcome might well be decided by which of the minor potential coalition parties that manages to pass the 5% threshold. The Socialists rely on their present coalition partner Free Democrats, and the opposition on the Hungarian Democratic Forum MDF.

If the Italians should be genuinely worried about their deficit situation, the Hungarians should be positively alarmed.

Their budget deficit is now approaching 9% of GDP after an avalanche of spending by the Socialist government. At the same time, it continues to claim that it intends to meet the Maastricht criteria and join the Euro currency by 2010.

That’s hardly credible. It would require a very substantial fiscal tightening. And the election campaigns have given no indications of such. Instead the Socialists have promised to raise all wages by 25% during the next four years.

Populism is what such things are normally called. Certainly not responsible politics.

This could spell a rather rough ride for Hungary during the next few years.

If markets lose faith in the Euro possibilities of Hungary, at the same time as money on the international markets will be less cheap, the country might well be heading for a repetition of its 1995 financial crisis.

There are strong reasons to keep a watchful eye on the populist tendencies in the different ongoing elections.

Italy is certainly worrying – but it looks far worse by the Danube.

The Borders of Europe

03 april 2006

It has become increasingly popular to ask for the European Union to start to define the borders of Europe.

Sounds somewhat strange, but it’s all part of the efforts underway to try to limit the future enlargement of the Union.

Now it was French party leader Nicolas Sarkozy who voiced these thoughts at the EPP Congress in Rome:

We have to ask: should Europe have borders? And the answer is yes, it should. A Europe without borders will become a subset of the United Nations.

Of course Europe has borders. It will never become the United Nations – the notion is just silly.

Morocco in 1987 applied for membership in the then European Community, but found its letter of application coming back with the information that Morocco is not in Europe. The Mediterranean is the boundary towards the South.

To the West the situation is also fairly straighforward.

Greenland is America and comes under the sovereignity of Denmark, but there is a special agreement that says that although Greenland is part of Denmark it is not part of the European Union. Iceland is clearly Europe.

The French overseas territories in Latin America – there are such! – are however seen as fully part of France and accordingly part of the European Union. In the middle of the Atlantic, the Azores are part of the European Union by being a part of Portugal.

The North can’t be much of a problem either.

Norway? Well, some of them might not see it that way, but even they are undoubtedly Europeans.

It’s obviously the East that is the problem.

Well, Turkey has been defined as part of Europe at the least since the setting up of the Council of Europe immediately after World War II, and the fact that a unanimous decision has been taken by the 25 member countries to open accession negotiations with Turkey should also close the debate on that one.

Cyprus is an island more or less off the coast of Lebanon. The closest other capital to Nicosia is Beiruth. And also Damascus, Jerusalem, Amman and Cairo are geographically closer to Nicosia than Athens is.

But it is a member of the European Union. So, it’s European as well.


Well, it’s territory lies well within all classical definitions of Europe, and for those seeing that as important it’s a country with strong Christian roots. Those however being Orthodox – same as Greece and Cyprus.

So, on which grounds could Ukraine be classified as not being a European country? It’s difficult to see.

And then there is Moldava in between Romania and Ukraine. Much the same applies there.

Russia and Belarus are somewhat special cases. I would argue that they are both European, but that the probability of either of them seriously contemplating membership of the European Union is virtually nil.

But to define Russia as not European – Asian? – would be difficult indeed. Different? Yes. Non-European? No.

That really takes us down to Caucasus, and here I agree that it becomes somewhat tricky. The classical boundary of Europe was seen as running along the Caucasus mountain ridge, and Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are clearly beyond this.

This we can debate for a long time.

But is this really a relevant debate? To try to bloc the states of Transcaucasus from ever even contemplating membership in the European Union?

Those asking for the debate about the boundaries of Europe aren´t probably aiming at this.

But instead of asking the questions they should be ready to try to start providing the answers.

It will not be easy.

And hardly politically productive.

Italy Between No Alternatives

02 april 2006

Next Sunday and Monday the Italian voters go to the polls. And we are now entering the final week of a very heated campaign.

On the surface of it, it is Silvio Berlusconi against Romano Prodi. But in reality it is two rather complex coalition alternatives. And how they shape up will determine the extent to which a coalition can actually implement the necessary measures.

So far, the election campaign has been called a ”carnival of populism” by the Chairman of the Confindustria business association. With the Italian economy facing obvious structural problems, neither side has really tried to address them properly.

Berlusconi is warning that the Communist will tear a Prodi coalition to pieces as they did after the 1996 election, and Prodi points out that Berlusconi has been delivering practically nothing of what he had promised.

Neither accusation is wrong. In a sense, it’s a campaign of competing weaknesses that we are witnessing in Italy.

The Prodi coalition has been ahead in the opinion polls, although no such are published during the final week. But in the last few days it seems to have been suffering from confusion concerning its tax policies.

There is little doubt that it would be good for Europe and for Italy if a Berlusconi who often turns his performance into pure disgrace would disappear from the scene. His inflated ego and lack of seriousness on serious issue is making harm to his party as well as to his Italy.

But that does not mean that there are reasons to be particularly optimistic concerning the possibilities of a Prodi coalition. It will know what it is against – but will it know what it is in favour of? And some of its proposals are clearly going go be detrimental to the reform potential of the economy.

What Italy would really need is a party that dares to produce a strong package of pro-growth reforms. Sooner or later that will be called for anyhow.

Absence of reforms now means decline of the growth potential in future years.

And this will affect not only Italy, but all of Europe.

Turks in Baltics

01 april 2006

Four F16 fighters of the Turkish Air Force have now arrived in Siauliai in Lithuania.

They are there to take over responsibility for air policing over the three Baltic countries.

In that role they are replacing four MiG-29’s from the Polish Air Force that have been conducting this NATO mission for the past six months.

It’s a different Europe indeed.

Siauliai was once a major Soviet airbase. It was part of the extensive system as such throughout the then Baltic Soviet republics.

But now it’s a base used by NATO for patrolling and protecting the skies of the area.

It’s not really air defence. No one sees any threat of that sort. But in the post-September 11 environment there is an increased need for air policing missions. And since the three Baltic nations don’t have any aircrafts that can conduct even the most rudimentary missions of this sort, NATO has stepped in with units from different air forces rotating to the base in northern Lithuania.

It’s an example of the new security arrangements in Europe.

For the first time it is planes from the Turkish Air Force coming to the area. It’s not their natural environment.

And it’s worth noting that they are also bringing the first female fighter pilot to the mission and to the area.

It’s modern Turkey in the new Europe.

Is EPP Blocking the Balkans?

01 april 2006

It’s far from clear what the centre-right European People’s Party at its Congress in Rome in the last few days really wanted to say concerning the further enlargement of the European Union.

But the combination of a muddled text from the congress and very clear language from primarily German CSU leader Edmund Stoiber unfortunately invites the suspicion that there are significant voices that want to bloc the rest of the Balkans from becoming members.

They are playing around with the future stability of Europe.

Croatia is in a separate leauge since accession negotiations with the European Union have already started. But also here EPP says that there has to be treaty revisions before any new members beyond Bulgaria and Romania can be let in. And the EPP seems to say that nothing less than the full Constitutional Treaty will do.

This is an impossible position. Croatia is on its way, and the full Constitutional Treaty is dead. The EPP will have to eat its words.

But it’s when it comes to what happens thereafter that it becomes really muddled and dangereous.

The final declaration sets out to describe some sort of alternative to membership that will be offered the undisclosed aspirants that the EPP isn’t very keen on letting in:

By the means of an especially close partnership, a common economic area could be created to the benefit of both the countries concerned and the EU itself. However, it should be more than a “European Economic Area”. It should include close political consultation, especially in the areas of Justice and Home Affairs (border control, cooperation in juridical affairs, the protection of human rights, exchange of information about human trafficking and drugs), as well as Foreign and Security Policy (especially the common fight against terrorism) and respect of the external borders of the Union. The EU should encourage these states to commit themselves to stronger regional cooperation amongst themselves. This would enable Europe to strengthen peace and stability as well as economic prosperity, throughout the continent, by alternative means to membership.

The fact that one speaks about stronger regional cooperation strongly implies that it is the rest of the Western Balkans one is talking about.

It can’t really be Turkey, and it can’t really be asking Ukraine to cooperate more closely with Russia.

What will be offered here is a satellite relationship without any right of influence over the decisions.

I do not think that this is an offer that will be easily taken up. The nationalist forces will see it as Europe rejecting their countries – which will be a correct interpretation – and go for their own way of shaping the future.

And with more nationalist forces then dominating the politics of the Balkans – rest assured that we are heading for more of trouble.

Well before that, we will see the policies of conditionality of the European Union losing their impact. At the moment we can demand changes of actions since these are necessary in order to move towards membership.

But what can we demand when we say that we would reject them as members? The risk is that they will laugh at us…

I find it highly regrettable that the EPP is turning into a more inward-looking group, less concerned with Europe as a whole or its standing in the world than with bowing to the pressures of the day.

It’s a deeply muddled text they have produced.

I expect them to explain what they really mean.