New Government in Sweden

07 oktober 2006

Well, things do happen in life, as we know.

On Friday I was appointed Foreign Minister of Sweden in a move that was widely seen as somewhat surprising.

And in many ways it was. But when asked, while it wasn’t entirely easy to say yes, it would have been impossible to say no.

So that’s the way it is. And there is a very good team at the ministry with Gunilla Carlsson doing international development issues and Maria Borelius doing international trade. In addition, there is Cecilia Malmström as Minister for European Affairs located in the Prime Minister’s Office.

All together a rather strong team.

And the policy declaration of the new government is also very clear on the priorities also in foreign affairs.

We clearly want to be in the centre of the process of European integration. We want a Europe that is a strong voice for freedom, democracy, peace and reconciliation throughout the world. We are convinced of the need to go on with the process of enlargement of the European Union. We seek security in the cooperation with other nations. We value the transatlantic link. We remain a strong supported of the United Nations.

All in all a modern foreign policy.

So that’s what I’m doing at the moment. These days to a large extent getting the house in order. But then onwards…

Call For Mid East Action

04 oktober 2006

Today is published a major appeal for a new push towards peace in the Middle East, signed by a large number of public leaders around the world.

And I am among those that have signed the appeal.

It comes at the same time as US Secretary of State Rice is touring the region and exploring the possibilities of moving forward.

And it comes when there is a mounting interest in Europe in taking some sort of initiative. The present policy vacuum on the key issues of the conflict are nothing less than dangereous.

Another appeal in another critical situation.

Will it have any effect?

Keflavik Moves On

03 oktober 2006

A couple of days ago, the last part of the US military base at Keflavik on Iceland was closed down.

It’s a historic move showing the new times we are living in.

For close to a generation, Keflavik was the by far most important military installation in northern Europe. It was the linchpin of Atlantic and Northern security during the cold decades of the Cold War.

Operated primarily by the US Navy, the mission centered on the runways, command and control as well as intelligence facilities at and around Keflavik was to prevent any Soviet naval break-throughs towards the Atlantic supply lines connecting the United States and Western Europe, as well as facilitating Western movements up towards the northern parts of the Atlantic.

From here, important parts of the vast sub-surface and air patrol system that sought to track Soviet nuclear submarines as they exited their base areas up on the Kola peninsula or beyond and heading towards the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland were run.

In addition, there were the aircrafts for the air defence of Iceland and the very large radar stations on northern and eastern parts of Iceland.

It was no coincidence that one of the books trying to look into how a possible Soviet surprise attack against the West would look started with a very cleverly executed raid against Keflavik. It was the key installation.

But no it’s all gone. Left are empty hangars and large living quarters for the thousands of soldiers and families that were stationed there.

It’s a new world.

Ban Ki Moon Takes Clear Lead

03 oktober 2006

Yesterday’s straw poll in the Security Council made it likely that Ban Ki Moon would in fact emerge as the next Secretary-General of the United Nations.

He was the only one of the contenders that did not receive one or more discouraging votes from permanent members of the Security Council, as well as receiving encouraging ones from 14 out of the 15 members.

And number two in the race – Shashi Tharoor from India- immediately gave a concession speech and pledged his support for Ban Ki Moon.

More important than this were statements by the ambassadors of both China and the United States. China’s Permanent Representative said that it was ”quite clear” that Mr Moon was the candidate, and John Bolton for the US said that he would be ”surprised” if there were any new names that would enter the race.

So much for my previous guess that this would in fact happen!

The Security Council now moves towards a formal vote next Monday. That might decide the issue, with the nomination of the Council then going forward for confirmation to the General Assembly.

Latvia’s Vike-Freiberga came in a most honourable number three in this last straw poll, although with two permanent members – Russia? China? – casting discouraging votes.

But all in all it was a most impressive achievement by her and by Latvia.

Now we will see what happens on Monday.

Bosnian Challenges

02 oktober 2006

If I was wrong in my predictions for the Austrian elections, it looks as if I was somewhat less unsuccesful in the Bosnian case.

With preliminary results in, we see a significant shift among both the Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Serb voters.

The old and traditional nationalist parties – SDA and SDS, respectively – have been outflanked and defeated by forces using more of nationalist rhetoric, although a general desire for change has in all probability also played a role.

The Bosnian Muslim seat in the Presidency will now be taken by Haris Silajdzic and the Bosnian Serb one by Nebojsa Radmanovic.

The former wants to abolish Republika Srpska, while the latter comes from a party that has recently started to toy with the idea of abolishing Bosnia. Eleven years after Dayton, that’s not too encouraging a result.

But while things do look bad on paper I don’t think there is any cause for alarm. And I would strongly caution against any thought of outside political intervention of the one sort or the other.

At the end of the day these gentlemen will have to find their own compromises if they want to live together. And with all of Europe – including, slowly and somewhat reluctantly even the Balkans – coming together they know that they haven’t got much of a choice.

So Bosnia is to be congratulated to a well run and democratic election. That’s good.

And then it is to be wished well in its attempts to live with the result.

That’s democracy. Sometimes a messy thing – but always better than the alternatives.

The New Week

02 oktober 2006

Another week of changes starting its journey.

On Friday we’ll get the new government in Sweden. And there will obviously be a new government in Austria at some point in time.

We are still waiting for the election results from Bosnia to see what they might imply.

And that local elections in Hungary brought setbacks for the ruling Socialists was hardly surprising.

The week will also bring important local elections in Georgia – in the middle of its dangereous crisis with Russia.

My week will be somewhat more Stockholm than usual.

But on Wednesday and Thursday I’m off to Rome for meetings there with business and government representatives, including Prime Minister Prodi. It will be centered on the role and possibilities of Italy as globalisation accelerates.

And then I might head from there to Brussels for some informal talks on the question of Turkey’s accession to the European Union. That’s a subject that will also be in focus the coming days due to Chancellor Merkel’s visit to Ankara in the weel.

Slowly, we see autumn arriving in Stockholm.

Surprise in Austria

01 oktober 2006

It is indeed somewhat of a surprise to everyone to see the SPÖ coming out on top of the Austrian elections today.

Everyone – including myself – had expected ÖVP and Chancellor Schuessel to come out on top, although probably not repeating the very good 2002 election result.

But the voters wanted otherwise. ÖVP lost more than 8 % and ended up with 66 seats in the Nationalrat, while SPÖ lost 0,8 % and ended up with 68 seats.

And that means that the SPÖ leader Gusenbauer is likely to be the one trying to form a coalition – which at the end of the days might well include ÖVP.

If you compare with the Swedish election two weeks ago, it’s interesting to see the difference between the two countries.

While SPÖ completely dominated Vienna, with ÖVP only having marginally more than 20 % there, the Social Democrats in Sweden suffered their worst losses in the metropolitan Stockholm area, and are now a distinct minority party there, with the Moderates being the by far leading force among the uran middle classes.

In contrast. ÖVP retains its bastions in Tyrol, where the SPÖ is virtually nothing. This sounds rather like the Swedish Social Democrats who are scoring their best results in the less populated, rural and somewhat problematic parts of the country.

Two different countries.

Now let’s see what kind of government Mr Gusenbauer will manage to get together.

It’s Austria, and it will take some time.