Liberal Conservatism

30 september 2006

I promised to come back to David Cameron as well after my comments on – and praise for – Tony Blair.

On September 11 he delivered a speech on foreign affairs that has been much commented upon since.

That’s primarily because his phrase that Britain should be ”solid but not slavish” in its friendship with the United States. The swipe at Blair was difficult not to understand.

But there is far more to the speech than that.

In fact, he makes a rather interesting attempt to distinguish his so called liberal conservatism on international affairs from the so called neo-conservatism that has been doing much of the running in the Anglo-Sachson world in the last few years.

And its worth reading.

I particularly liked the way he looks at the struggle against terrorism around the world:

Part of the problem we have encountered these past five years is that the struggle has been perceived – as the terrorists want it to be perceived – as a single struggle between single protagonists.

The danger is that by positing a single source of terrorism – a global jihad – and opposing it with a single global response – American-backed force – we will simply fulfil our own prophecy.

We are not engaged in a clash of civilisations, and suggestions that we are can too easily have the opposite effect to the one intended: making the extremists more attractive to the uncommitted

This is not to deny the connections between terrorist activity in different parts of the world.

It is simply an appeal for us to be a little smarter in how we handle those connections.

Our aim should be to dismantle the threat, separating its component parts, rather than amalgamating them into a single global jihad that simply becomes a call to arms.”

I think this is entirely correct – and the difference between much of what is dominating on the other side of the Atlantic is profound.

It is by dismantling or disaggregating the situations, and then dealing with them one after the other, that we have the greatest possibilities of making progress.

Lumping them all together in one big battle to which we also give the description ”war” probably serves Usama bin Laden better than it serves anything else.

The David Cameron restyling has certainly been about style to a very large extent.

But the speech on foreign policy showed interesting and important substance as well.

Green Green Green Blue

30 september 2006

With the UK Conservatives getting together for their party conference in Bournemouth, there will be a lot of attention on the changes they are undergoing.

Is it just style? Where is really the substance?

As usual there is likely to be a bit of both in what’s going on, and that’s only natural.

When times are changing the challenges of politics are changing and so must the political parties.

Tony Blair spoke about how the issues have gone from being ”essentially British” a decade or so ago to being ”essentially global” today and tomorrow. Very true. And very important.

The Conservatives are also emphasizing the global, although trying to perform the interesting intellectual balancing act of doing so without mentioning or getting involved with European issues.

And they are emphasizing their new green and environmentally friendly image. The tree-huggers of Notting Hill.

Just look at the new symbol and log of the Conservative Party.

Not really Churchill. Not really Macmillan. Certainly not Thatcher.

But certainly modern.

Next Round UN Race

30 september 2006

Well, I was not entirely correct in my previous entry on the race to select the next Secretary-General of the UN.

There was indeed an interesting straw poll among UNSC members on Thursday.

But it had been decided to have another one on Monday – and that will be the one with colour-coded votes so that there is a difference between permanent and non-permanent member states.

That’s when the real drama will begin.

Thursday’s straw poll was interesting in that Latvia’s Vaira Vike-Freiberga – who entered the race only two weeks ago – come in at third place. She had seven votes encouraging her against six votes discouraging her.

Only two candidates – present front-runner Ban Ki Moon from South Korea and Sashi Tharoor from India – did better. All others had more discoraging than encouraging votes – de facto the end of them.

The performance of Vaira Vike-Freibergis is indeed impressive, and she should be truly congratulated. Her success benefits the image of her country and all three of the Baltic countries.

But it’s on Monday it gets real.

Will Russia put a red vote to her since she’s Latvian? Probable, I would say. She has done a lot to improve relations between Russia and Latvia, but it’s doubtful whether that’s enough.

And which red votes will there be against the others? China will take out of the race the candidates it does not want to see going to the final round.

It will be interesting to follow, and this website will give you the latest.

At the end of the day I stand by my guess that it’s likely to end up with someone who’s not on today list.

Next UN Secretary General

28 september 2006

This is the day for a critical straw poll among the members of the UN Security Council on who will be the next Secretary General.

And its the first of the straw polls that makes a difference between permanent and non-permanent members of the Council. One discouraging vote from one of the so called P5’s de facto means a veto and exit from the race.

In previous straw polls, there has be no way of seeing the rather critical difference betweehn the two categories of members.

Today, New York Times has invited the six official candidates to briefly present their views on what they want to do.

It makes interesting reading. I know three of them fairly well – they are all highly qualified individuals.

So far there are six candidates, but my guess that at the end of the day at the least one of them will be out of the game.

And my guess is also that there is more than a fair chance that the final choice of the P5 – in effect, the decision is theirs – will not be a person on the list of today.

Essentially Global

28 september 2006

Passing by London on my way back from New York was a good opportunity to get up to speed on the transformations underway on the British political scene.

The Labour party has just finished its conference in Manchester, and the Conservatives are only days from theirs in Bournemouth.

Tony Blair is leaving – although probably not until May of next year or so – and Labour is challenged by the new Conservative leader David Cameron.

His ratings might be fairly low on the British scene at the moment, but I persist in seeing him as one of the both best and most interesting major political leaders in terms of making speeches.

And his farewell in Manchester was certainly not exception to that rule. It’s worth reading in its whole.

But here I’ll just quote at some length what he said about how the challenges of politics have changed during the last decade. From being essentially national, they have now become essentially global:

The scale of the challenges now dwarf what we faced in 1997. They are different, deeper, bigger, hammered out on the anvil of forces, global in nature, sweeping the world.

In 1997 the challenges we faced were essentially British. Today they are essentially global.

The world today is a vast reservoir of potential opportunity. New jobs in environmental technology, the creative industries, financial services. Cheap goods and travel. The internet. Advances in science and technology.

In 10 years we will think nothing of school-leavers going off to university anywhere in the world.

But with these opportunities comes huge insecurity.

In 1997 we barely mentioned China. Not any more. Last year China and India produced more graduates than all of Europe put together.

10 years ago, energy wasn’t on the agenda. The environment an also-ran.

10 years ago, if we talked pensions we meant pensioners.

Immigration hardly raised.

Terrorism meant the IRA.

Not any more.

We used to feel we could shut our front door on the problems and conflicts of the wider world. Not any more.

Not with globalisation. Not with climate change. Not with organised crime. Not when suicide bombers born and bred in Britain bring carnage to the streets of London . In the name of religion.

A speech by the Pope to an academic seminar in Bavaria leads to protests in Britain.

The question today is different to the one we faced in 1997.

It is how we reconcile openness to the rich possibilities of globalisation, with security in the face of its threats.

How to be open and secure.

I would hope that every major political leader in every European country would be ready to spell out the nature of the tasks ahead in the same way.

Gloomy Perspectives

27 september 2006

Just preparing to leave New York and head back to Sweden after an intense day of discussions here.

At the SACC NY centennial, Richard Holbrooke and I had a public discussions on the different challenges we are facing in the years ahead.

I’m afraid it was a rather gloomy session.

While I spoke of most things between Kabul and Khartoum becoming increasingly problematic, Holbrooke said the same but used the expression between Beirut and Bombay. At the end of the day it means the same.

And we both failed to see the coherent either European or American policies to address this, not to speak about coherence in approach across the Atlantic. But we agreed that without that appearing, the situations are likely to get worse.

Meanwhile, President Bush in Washington is trying to get President Musharaf of Pakistan and President Kharazai of Afghanistan to improve their relationship and be more effective in countering what the New York Times today actually calls an ”insurgency” in Afghanistan.

The seriousness of the situation is illustrated not only by the word ”insurgency”, but also by fear that it is getting ”iraqized”. Not good.

President Bush has also decided to release to the public important part of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) dealing with terrorism that’s been subject of controversy in the last few days.

It’s worth reading – without being particularly sensational. You can find it through the NYT article on the subject.

Better head back to Stockholm.

Mounting Concerns Across Atlantic

26 september 2006

I see that UPI in a telegram has picked up on one of the discussions we had in Berlin a couple of days ago, quoting some of the more worried words that I had to say on the situation in the Middle East.

It was indeed a discussion dominated by mounting concerns.

Everywhere in the region – from Kabul to Khartoum – our policies as well as the situation is ”heading South”, as they would say on this side of the Atlantic.

And discussions here in New York today in and around the United Nations have not given much ground for optimism.

There is a desperate feeling in the air, and that could perhaps lead to something coming together to produce something. But there are formidable forces working in the opposite direction as well.

Could the European Union take a credible initative? Could Europe and the United States join forces for something truly comprehensive in the region?

I don’t know. No one else seems to know either.

But things are not moving in the right direction. Mildly speaking.

Morning by East River

26 september 2006

A beutitful morning in New York. The summer seems to be lingering on her as well.

Just heading for breakfast a couple of blocks from the UN building on East River.

The morning TV news is dominated by different aspects of security and foreign affairs issues as the controversies ahead of the mid-term elections are increasing.

A news report last week about a secret National Intelligence Estimates that evidently states the obvious in claiming that the situation in Iraq has become a focus for recruiting terrorists is at the centre of the debate at the moment.

The Democrats are obviously making the most of it. To counter the Bush claim that he has made America safer is politically important.

But administration spokesmen are saying that this is too limited a view of what the NIE is actually saying, and in all probability it is also saying that the US had had some success in reducing the possibilities of the al-Qaeda core network.

All fairly obvious. You don’t need leaks from a secret report to understand that. And it does not seem to be that much to argue about.

But with the elections looming, the debate is getting increasingly partisan. Why did not Clinton get at bin Laden? Why hasn’t Bush caught him? What has the war in Iraq really meant for the long-term security of the country?

Today Afghan President Karzai pays a visit to the White House. Meanwhile, reports speak about increased fighting primarily in southern Afghanistan, with an Italian soldier killed yesterday.

It’s obvious that there is a need to take a hard look at the combined operation in Afghanistan. A new Petersberg conference bringing all of the actors together might well be needed shortly.

Meanwhile, I notice that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has headed off to Montenegro. Nice place, but doesn’t feel that central to what’s happening at the moment.

New York itself seems to be winding down somewhat from all the stress during the 61st UN General Assembly. Limousines, police cars and blocked roads as the world’s leader got here to have their say.

I’ll hover over to the UN during the day to pick up the latest gossip. And then it’s time for the Swedish-American celebrations in the evening.

The World From New York

25 september 2006

As work continues with setting up the new government in Sweden, I’m heading for New York later today.

It’s the centennial anniversary of the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce there. Big thing.

I’m there primarily for an interesting seminar on different global trends on Wednesday. Together with Richard Holbrooke I will try to make some sense of what’s happening on the global stage.

But then it’s back to here rather quickly.

Otherwise this is the week in Europea leading up to the parliamentary elections in Austria and Bosnia that I have written about, as well as the local elections in Hungary in the middle of the turmoil there.

And then there is the Labour Party conference in the UK with the final conference performance of Tony Blair – to be followed by the Conservative conference next week with challenger Cameron.

Next week is not only the week of the formal change in Sweden, but also of important local elections in Georgia as well as the parliamentary elections in Latvia on October 7th.

In the United States the members of Congress have left Washington and gone campaigning for the November mid-term elections. We seem to be witnessing a slight rebounce in the support for the otherwise somewhat beleaugered Bush administration.

There will be a lot to discuss in New York.

And Bosnia As Well

24 september 2006

Well, then there is of course the elections in Bosnia next weekend as well.

I must confess to having been somewhat out of touch with the debate there during the past few weeks.

But prior to that it wasn’t too stimulating.

It seemed to me then – it might have changed since – that the trend was that the two old and big nationalist parties – SDA on the Muslim and SDS on the Serb side – was in danger of being outflanked by the more nationalist rhetoric of their main rivals. On the Croat side it’s a more confused picture after the splits in the local HDZ party.

SDA is challenged by long-standing challenger Haris Silajdzic. He’s been around for ever, and remains as ambitious as ever. But instead of being a man that could help in bridging the divides of Bosnia, I think there is now a risk of him making them worse.

He was one of those instrumental in blocking the attempt earlier this year to modify the Bosnian constitution – advocating an all-or-nothing approach that fits very badly with the realities of Bosnia.

And on the Serb side the story seems to be similar with RS Prime Minister Milorad Dodik talking about an independence referendum for Republika Srpska in order to outflank the classical nationalists in SDS. But these have, under a new leadership, started to sound more responsible than in the past, also on the controversial constitutional issues.

I’m not unduly alarmed, although the build-up of nationalist rhetoric throughout the region at the moment is worth taking note of.

And all my younger friends in Bosnia are saying that they are throughly fed up with a rhetoric that seems to be more looking back to the wat years than forward to the common European future they want.

Choice for Austria

24 september 2006

One week after the Swedísh election, and one week until the voters go to the polls in Austria.

You might remember all the fuss that was created after right-wuing FPÖ under Jorg Haider had their success in the autumn 1999 election and eventually was made the coalition partner of centre-right ÖVP under Wolfgang Schuessel.

It was then said that this would open the floodgates to rightist populist parties throughout Europe. Indignation was overflowing selected European capitals.

I never believed in those theories, and thought that Schuessel did the right thing.

Up until then the country had been governed by a larga coalition between the Social Democrats SPÖ and ÖVP. It was seen as big, overpowering, bureucratic and bordering on the corrupt.

And the FPÖ vote was essentially a vote by the young people of Austria for change. You couldn’t really vote for ÖVP or SPÖ if you wanted change – there was only FPÖ. And they got nearly 30 % of the vote.

Since then the Schuessel strategy has proved itself.

He has governed successfully – getting a new mandate in the November 2002 elections – and has gradually marginalized Haider to the point that he is now almost completely limited to his regional position in Kärnten.

The election now is a race between ÖVP and SPÖ for position number one, and then it will be a question of coalitions.

At the moment it looks very much as if ÖVP will come out on top. Schuessel is well ahead in opinion polls, and seems to have won the key duel with the SPÖ leader without much of difficulty.

And SPÖ is seriously tarnished by scandals and failure in a bank more or less affiliated with the trade unions it is very close to. Not a niced story.

But to win is one thing – to form a coalition will be another.

At the moment speculation is that Schuessel will have to chose between a coalition with the SPÖ and one with the Greens. My guess is that he would prefer to test the later alternative – with a coalition with SPÖ being the default option.

In either case it will be a significant accomplishment if Wolfgang Schuessel comes out on top in this election as well.

In my opinion there is little doubt that he deserves it. Austria is doing very well under him.

Erzwungene Wege

23 september 2006

I don’t think there is any exhibition in recent years that has generated so much controversy as the one on expelled people’s now open in the Kronprinzenhalle in central Berlin.

I took the opportunity of spending some time at it earlier today.

And I come away convinced that it ought to be shown all over Europe in the years to come.

During the 20th century more than 30 peoples in Europe have more or less lost their right to their own homes. And although it is not easy to estimate how many people have been affected, it is reasonable to talk of between 80 and 100 million people.

That’s a huge amount of human suffering.

But there is also the loss of a diversity in important parts of Europe that had been preserved over the centuries. Areas might have become more homogeneous, but Europe as a whole has become a poorer place, even leaving all of the suffering aside.

It’s not large, but it’s very telling in the facts that it portrays. And the steady stream of people just standing in silence reading, looking at small items or listening at some of the stations were this is possible is impressive.

You can see that it is an exhibition that makes an impression.

For every people that has been forced to flee there are those guilty of having done it, and there is often a complicated story leading up to it. That’s why it has been so sensitive to bring up the fate of the millions of Germans expelled from Central Europe in 1945.

Isn’t this to seek to ”relativize” the crimes of Hitler and the Holocaust? And is it right to even mention the expulsions from Poland after the crimes the Nazis had committed against that nation?

But this isn’t the only aspect that has lead to controversy.

There is the perennial debate on whether the mass murders of Armenians in 1915 should be called a genocide or not. Although the facts are generelly recognized, the term is still highly controversial in Turkey.

But there are more sensitive cases shown in moving details in the exhibition.

The expulsion of Finns from Vyborg and Karelia. The expulsion of Italians from Istria and Dalmatia. Or the enormous ”exchange” of people between Greece and Turkey after the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.

Not to speak about the ethnic cleansing of the far more recent Balkan wars.

But all this is part of our history, and the exhibition is just presenting the facts without either pointing fingers or judging concerning responsibility. In taking this approach it in fact becomes even stronger.

Well worth a journey to Berlin. That I found it particularly strong perhaps has its background in me having lived through ethnic cleansing and seen the human tragedies.

Let’s hope that there will be a wider future for the exhibition.

Merkel Has Spoken

23 september 2006

I’m now back in Stockholm after two intense days of different discussions in Berlin.

It was the Bertelsmann Forum which was organized for the 10th time, and which brought together a rather impressive and certainly interesting crowd ranging from Angela Merkel to Henry Kissinger.

And in addition to Merkel there were the Prime Ministers of France, Belgium, Hungary, Latvia and Montenegro.

One of the highlights was the policy speech on European issues delivered yesterday by Chancellor Merkel. It had been preceded by rather extensive discussions on which policy line to take on some controversial issues.

And one of them was clearly the future of enlargement.

Here she come down with a position that is tolerable although not ideal, but which could have been a good deal worse. She did not fall into the dangereous trap of trying to define, once and for all, the borders of Europe.

In effect she said that existing accession negotiations – Croatia and Turkey – should go on, that the rest of the Balkans had a membership perspective, but that one beyond this in the forseeable future should not hold out the membership perspective to anyone.

I don’t have the precise text, and I have yet to find it on any of the official websites, but it will come.

In effect this means that membership for Ukraine is off the table for the forseeable future, and since this would only be possible in the longer perspective anyhow, the damage might not be overwhelming. The exact wording made it clear that the door was not closed forever.

She was also rather careful in her position on the future of the Constitutional Treaty. Without repeating past pronouncements that it should be adopted as it is – a rather unrealistic position – she pointed out some of the core issues that a coming treaty must dealt with.

To slim it down to just the most essential institutional provision was not, in her view, sufficient, and she argued for including the section on citizen’s rights as well in any new attempt.

Although we might see some movement on this issue already in the Berlin Declaration on the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome in March, she made it clear that it waws only in June – after the French presidential election – that the German Presidency would be prepared to become somewhat more concrete.

A wise line that allows for both reflections and debate in the coming months – although we are already starting to see roughly where the entire discussion is heading.

Congratulations, Estonia!

23 september 2006

It is of course profoundly good news that Toomas Ilves has been elected as the new President of Estonia.

At last there is a worthy successor to Lennart Meri. And a person that can proudly project the success of Estonia and the other Baltic states on the wider world stage.

It was long uncertain whether he could make it, but it seems as if campaigning has paid off. And Estonians at the end of the day wanted a modern president they could be proud of.

This is not to say that outgoing president Arnold Ruutel, who was now defeated by Toomas Ilves, hasn’t done important services to his country.

With his roots in Soviet Estonia’s agriculture and political nomenklatura he played a prominent role — along with young movement leaders — in the restoration of Estonia’s independence through parliamentary enactments.

And during the 1990’s he helped reassure sections of society, including many Russians, that Estonia’s independence and aspiration to join NATO and the European Union was good for the country.

He become president in 2001 at the age of 73 and served as a figurehead, though often with dignity. However, not speaking any foreign language other than Russian, he has been at a disadvantage in representing Estonia internationally.

Toomas Ilves represents a more modern, outward looking Estonia.

He has done most things over the years. He has been his country’s ambassador in Washington as well as its foreign minister, and is now serving in the European Parliament and on its important Foreign Affairs Committee.

He will easily be the northern European official that moves the most easily around the corridors of the world – at the least its Western parts. And that is of great importance for a country – not the least if its size doesn’t automatically give it entry everywhere.

Toomas Ilves is of course to be congratulated, but primarily the congratulations should go to all of Estonia.

Thoughts in Lyon

21 september 2006

Well, it was a good meeting with the European Ideas Network here in Lyon.

EIN every years brings together thought and opinion leaders from the centre-right in Europe for a couple of days of brainstorming and provocative discussions.

And I have been invited to speak in Berlin in 2004, in Lisbon in 2005 and here in Lyon in 2007.

But others were here as well. Commission President Barroso delivered a good speech on the agenda of Europe today. Passionate in a way he isn’t always.

And I took the opportunity of my speech over dinner – someone has to have that thankless task – of discussing the gathering storms around Europe and the urgent need to strengthen the soft powers of Europe in order to extent our zone of peace and stability.

At a time when there is a lot of discussion on ”the borders of Europe” and ”absorption capacity” I wanted to highlight what is really at stake if we suddenly decide to shut the doors.

If one door is shut, other doors are opened. That’s the way history works. And if we close the door to European integration – however far down the road the ultimate goal might be – then we are opening up the doors to aggressive nationalism of a sort we have seen before.

Then we open the doors to instability at our doorstops – soon to spill over them into us.

I was primarily talking about Serbia, Ukraine and Turkey. These are the ”swing states” that I see in the decade ahead. If they are turned away from us, the consequences over wide regions will be profound.

We must engage, engage and engage in order to change and change and change. There are no quick fixes to true peace.

Closing the door to them is to open the doors to new instability.

I’ll see if I can post the entire text somewhere.

From Bosphorous to Rhone

21 september 2006

It’s early Thursday morning by the Bosphorous, and the great city of Istanbul is waking up.

It’s somewhat unclear how many people are actually living here. The city is growing fast. There might be around 20 million people in the urban landscape around the Bosphorous.

And it is indeed one of the greatest of European cities.

Thick with history and bustling with life. The ships from and to the Black Sea ports passing constantly, while the minarets of Sinan’s fabolous mosques are pointing towards the sky. The airport is filled with aircrafts heading also for desttinations all over Central Asia.

I was here for a dinner yesterday evening discussing the future of Turkish business in the European Union.

There is a slight pessimism concerning the accession process. The Cyprus issue risks causing a train wreck in the months ahead if nothing is done. Words of rejection from different European politicians have certainly been noted here, and are playing into the hands of more hard-line nationalist politicians.

But history seldom moves in a completely linear fashion. It always has its ups and down and bumbs in the road.

It might be ten years down the road when we arrive at the final decision concerning the membership of Turkey. It will be another European Union by then, and it will also be another Turkey.

But if we have a clear interest in Turkish membership today, I’m convinced that we will have an even clearer interest a decade or so down the road. It’s geostrategic importance will certainly not decline.

But now I’m off to Lyon by the river Rhone in France. Once the capital of the Gaul of the Romans, and then a trading and fair city of European importance. Now the second largest city of France and its gastronomical capital.

So I take the Turkish Airlines non-stop flight from Istanbul to Lyon to speak there about the challenges facing Europe in the years ahead.

European Journeys

19 september 2006

As the transition process in Sweden gets underway, I’m heading off to other European countries for different discussions.

Tomorrow I’m off to Istanbul for a dinner and discussion on the future of Turkish business in the European Union.

I do expect the Turkish economy to be one of the more vibrant and dynamic in the years ahead, and it will have to make its voice heard also in Brussels on different issues of concerns.

From Istanbul I’m heading off on Thursday to Lyon in France for the annual summer meeting of the European Ideas Network.

It’s the annual intellectual brainstorming linked to the centre-right EPP-EDG group in the European Parliament. And I’m joining a list of speakers that also includes European Commission President Barroso and French presidential contender Sarkozy.

And from Lyon I’m heading Friday to Berlin for the Bertelsmann International Forum, where my task is to discuss whether we are on the verge of a failure for the combined Western policies from the Middle East to the Hindu Kush.

I fear that’s a very relevant question – although the answer might not be immediately obvious.

And from there I’m heading home to Stockholm again, where the hand-over preparations should by then have proceeded a fair bit.

Hungarian Revolt

19 september 2006

Just as preparations are gearing up for the commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the 1956 freedom revolution in Hungary and its brutal repression by Soviet forces there is another rebellion brewing in Budapest.

The words used by Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany when he described Socialist election tactics at an internal meeting are indeed extraordinary.

He said that the government had been lying day and night in order to win the election and remain in power. And there is indeed a stark contrast between the rosy picture presented before the election and the brutal realities of not least a disastrous situation in the public finances.

While this is no excuse for violence in the streets, it is hardly surprising that there are strong reactions.

In a broader sense we can see what is now happening as a sign that some of the easier days in the transition in Central Europe are now over.

High levels of expenditure have been financed by income from privatizations, and when this is no longer possible to the same extent as before, the task of tackling the growing deficits becomes more difficult.

I have been writing here before about the Hungarian situation, warning that it might be heading for a very difficult situation. The Prime Ministers remarks and the violent reactions they have caused have now accelerated that development.

And there is only one way of relieving the situation.

To tell the thruth – and stop lying.

And to undertake the harsh budget cut-backs necessary.

New Beginning for Sweden

18 september 2006

I had a very late evening – I left the celebrations with Fredrik Reinfeldt at nearly 3 a m.

And now it’s an early morning – off to the TV studios again to try to comment on what’s happening.

The Swedish election gave the result that was in the air during the last few weeks. A rather resounding victory for the centre-right alliance, which will now give Sweden its first majority government since 1981.

The Moderate Party under Fredrik Reinfeldt not only did its best election since 1928, but also the best election result of any non-socialist party in modern times, narrowly beating the record set by the Centre party in the 1973 election.

And for the Social Democrats it was their worst election result since 1914 – before the introduction of universal suffrage in Sweden.

Prime Minister Persson immediately announced that he will step down also as leader of the party at an extraordinary congress likely in the beginning of next year. He looked positively happy as he made the announcement.

While previous non-socialist governments that took over in 1976 and in 1991 did so under rather difficult economic circumstances – in 1991 Sweden was losing 1 000 jobs a day and the government deficit was increasing by a billion crowns a week – the situation now is very different.

This is an immediate advantage, but also harbours the risk that the pressure for change will be less than it perhaps ought to be. As numerous international studies have pointed out, there is a need for deep structural reforms in important part of the economy of the country.

But further comments on this will have to await further developmnents.

Today Prime Minister Persson hands in his resignation, although he will be asked to remain in a caretaker position. As the new Riksdag convenes on October 3rd, the formal process of forming the new government will begin, with the actual transfer of power likely to happen on Friday October 6th.

That will be the true new beginning for Sweden.

Elections Tomorrow

16 september 2006

Tomorrow is election day in Sweden, Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

And in addition there is some sort of referendum in Trans-Dniester. Not much of an election, but still worth noting.

The Swedísh election is increasingly likely to result in Prime Minister Persson being replaced by Prime Minister Reinfeldt leading a four-party centre-right coalition.

All opinion polls this morning gives a lead to the centre-right.

That might be less important than the fact that the momentum we have seen during the last few days have been moving in that direction. That it will change before the polling stations close at 8 p.m. tomorrow is unlikely.

Today is the last day of campaign – in the wonderful late summer sun of September. Most party leaders will try to be both in Stockholm and in some other part of Sweden – with the 2nd largest city Göteborg the obviously most popular destination.

The final TV debate yesterday evening went well for the centre-right Alliance, with Prime Minister Persson failing to make the break-through that he so desperately needed. But he reluctantly had to accept that he is dependent for his future on the Communists – yes, the leader of the leftist party calls himself communist – and the Greens.

And this only added to the uncertainty concerning his policies for the future.

But there is also so called Senate elections in Berlin tomorrow. And they seem less likely to result in a change.

Berlin is run by an odd red-red coalition between the Social Democrats SPD and the ex-Communist of PDS. And this is now challenged by the CDU and its main candidate Friedbert Pflueger.

But he’s up against a rather solid majority supported also by all the old ex-Communist buraucrats still living in the Eastern parts of the now reunified Berlin.

His aim is probably to make a decent election, showing that the CDU is a force to be reckoned with, establishing himself as a Berliner and then aim for the next elections. Politics is a long-term business.

There is also elections in the Land of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in northern Germany, which is the only other place in Germany run by red-red coalitions.

Here the prospects are for more of change, with an increase in the support of the CDU, and perhaps a great coalition as a result.

Together, these two elections will give some indications of how the political winds are blowing in the country.

The thing in Trans-Dniester – the break-away Russian statelet in Moldova – isn’t really much to comment on. The result is easily orchestrated by the authorities.

The only relevant question is how the Kremlin will decide to play it. But that has almost nothing with democratic elections to do.