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Bengt O.

Mar 272014

(All links -unfortunately- go to Swedish language sites)

At the European Parliament elections in 2009 the participation ratio increased to 45.53 % from 37.85 % in 2004. Not a very encouraging figure but nevertheless a clear increase. For 2014 a low participation has been foreseen. However the latest opinion poll has been interpreted to show a participation ratio of about 50 % which would be about the officially stated government goal as expressed by EU-Minister Birgitta Ohlsson.

That, of course, would mean some progress. But strangely enough the Prime Minister shows an evasive attitude. He points out that it is much more important to vote for the government and local administrations, taxes and so on. Those factors will have an effect on the life of all Swedish inhabitants and are therefore much more important than “the 20 seats in the European Parliament“.

Already in 2009 the Prime Minister expressed his opinion that ““the voters are rational, they realize that the EU election is not (as) decisive for their everyday life and for the future.” He continued to say that there is a “tremendous difference” between national parliamentary elections and elections to the EP since the EP “has no influence on formation of government or influence”

What could be the motives behind this extraordinary position, particularly at this time when the EP has got real power and provides an effective counterbalance to the generally myopic and nationalistic approach of the Council? One factor is certainly that a high participation ratio will be to the disadvantage of the largest parties, both the Moderates in government and the opposition social democrats. In 2009 this was largely to the benefit of the Pirate Party (and earlier to the peculiar “Junilistan”). In 2014 it is likely that mainly the Left Party and unfortunately also the fascist Sweden Democrats will advance att the expense of the two big parties. Possibly also the Greens, although this is less certain. Interestingly we may also expect a good performance from the Peoples Party which is very weak nationally but has a high EU-profile through the popular top candidate Marit Paulsen as well as the EU-Minister Birgitta Ohlsson.

There is another factor at play. In a special committee in the Swedish Parliament the Government has to go through a sometimes awkward negotiation procedure with the other parties, mainly the Social Democrats, in order to arrive at an official Continue reading »

Oct 292009

Previous post on this blog discussed pros and mostly cons of a deepened Nordic cooperation within EU (including two non-members). But there are those who want to go further. In a recent article in DN (SW) which drew a lot of attention, the author calls for a a revival and extension of the Union of Kalmar (1397) by creating a federation of the five Nordic countries. Such a federation, writes the author, would be the 10th biggest economy of the world, well before Russia or Brazil. The Danish Queen, Margarethe, should be Head of State, like her namesake Margareta from the 15th Century.The article was taken seriously enough to be taken up in an editorial in the same newspaper which tells about “many enthusiastic and positive reactions” from its readers. DN does not tell about any reactions from Norway or Denmark (or from the Bernadotte dynasty).

The Kalmar Union has largely negative connotations in Sweden (and probably also in our neighboring countries) and led to two centuries of upheaval and civil war situations culminating in the rebellions of Engelbrekt, Karl Knutsson and finally Gustav Wasa who once and for all (?) secured Swedish independence.

We have to take this discussion  in a humorous vein with a serious undertone concerning the need for and desirability of increased contacts and cooperation between those countries which historically have so much in common. (But DN points out that accentuating a common culture can also be seen as “an unpleasant wink towards blondness and blue eyes.”)

Any formalized coordination between the Nordic countries risks having a negative impact on the wider cooperation since smallest common denominators must be found among countries which are quite different or at least have different ambitions for their EU membership.  This despite common language and culture. Problems would be compounded, of course, if non-members should have an influence. The same obviously goes for other sub-regional groupings.

(Anyone amused by historical parallels might of course point out that the original Kalmar Union was created to get rid of the German prince Albrecht of Mecklenburg.  His role in a new Kalmar Union would presumably be played by Ms. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy.)

Oct 232009

Do you know what Sweden and Finland have in common with Azerbaijan, Congo, Lichtenstein, Monaco and Tajikistan? Perhaps quite a lot but they are also members of the exclusive group of 22 countries which have paid their UN contributions in full. Among other EU countries only Austria and Germany belong to this group. (From AP via UN Wire).

A big shame on the others!

A large part of the UN Budget is spent on special political missions, requested and mandated by the Security Council. (This does not include peacekeeping operations). Not a single one of the permanent members have paid up in full.

In another development, to use newsspeak, 5 members of the so called “Nordic Council” have written an article in EU Observer  under the heading “Closer Nordic partnership needed within the EU.” The authors stress that the Nordic cooperation was developed and functioning well long before the EEC and are worried that the wider EU-cooperation would lead (or have already led) to “unnecessary bureaucratic barriers between the Nordic countries and detracts from citizens’ and businesses’ freedom of movement.” Continue reading »

Oct 192009

President Klaus seems to be looking for an exit strategy. Apparently he has explained in a radio interview that his famous “footnote” can also be added to the next Treaty that will have to be ratified by all member states, for instance in connection with the membership of Croatia.

However, the Prime Minister of Slovakia has declared that any exception granted to the Czech Republic must also be given to Slovakia. As far as we know, Slovenia has not yet said anything in this matter but it is to be expected that they also will invoke an exception as far as the AVNOJ regulations are concerned.

Swedish euroblogger Mats Engström sums up very neatly (EN) the situation of the Swedish Presidency. Mats is the only blogger who has mentioned Austria and Hungary in this context. He seems to think that a declaration as proposed (?) by President Klaus might satisfy also those countries. We feel less sure about that but hope, of course, that he is right. According to Swedish “Europaportalen”  (SW) the Swedish Presidency is prepared to assist in drafting a resolution (?) that would satisfy all parties involved. We have somehow the feeling that Mr. Klaus may not be very interested in Swedish assistance, having already blamed Mr. Reinfeldt for making public the content of confidential talks. 

Time is running out for the Swedish Government: ratification of the Treaty and nominations of the top representatives as well as the new Commission would automatically make the Presidency a success and even conceal a likely failure in Copenhagen. Failing in all those respects would leave a very bitter after taste.

Oct 172009

Swedish Radio reports that according to an interview published today (17/10 2009) President Klaus  says that the “Lisbon Treaty has gone to far to be stopped at this moment however much some of us would like it.” This is the link to the Swedish website: Tveksamt tjeckiskt ja till Lissabonfördrag (SW). This is (probably) the interview with Klaus in “Lidové Noviny”: Schválení Lisabonu nebude konec dějin (CZ). You can paste the text into for instance Google Translator and get a certainly not unambiguous translation.

Here is our attempt: “The train pulled away so far that it probably will not be stopped.” President Václav Klaus, in a comprehensive interview with LN for the first time indirectly admitted that the Lisbon Treaty to sign after all.  ‘Lisbon Treaty is a good thing for Europe, for freedom in Europe and the Czech Republic do not. Train with her but I drove so fast and it’s so far away that he may not be possible to stop or go, whatever we wanted so many, “said the president literally.

Even the possible entry into force is not the end of history,” he says in an interview Klaus.oznámil that the CR calls continued exemption from the Charter of Fundamental Rights”

“Lisbon Treaty a good thing for Europe”? Sounds more like wishful thinking on behalf of Google than from Klaus. We provably have to regard this interview as a curious incident, nothing more, at least not until we can get a full authorized translation.

Update: Austrian daily “Die Presse” covers this story in some detail.  Klaus should have declared that he is not going to wait for the British elections.  The rest is rather unclear and sometimes contradictory.

Oct 162009

Commenters and politicians in Europe appear to take the final  ratification of the Lisbon Treaty for granted. Speculations, nominations and campaigning for the top posts is rampant. The Czech President is not taken seriously and an object of ridicule all through Europe. “Couldn’t someone carry this man out of the Presidential Palace” writes a normally serious blog by the Brussels representation of the Swedish Trade Unions under the heading “Reinfeldt would tear his hair if he had any.” (Reinfeldt is the Swedish Prime Minister presently Chairman of the European Council  and a bald man).

We fear this might be a great illusion. During a recent meeting with Russian President Medvedev, Klaus smilingly told the TV crews that he would never sign the Treaty unless it was changed. (Medvedev also smiled.) Obviously, new negotiations are out of the question but this seems to be exactly what Klaus insists on. A less formal decision by the Heads of State has been seen as a possible way out. A spokesperson for the Austrian government has clearly stated that the only acceptable solution for their part would be a unilateral declaration by the Czech, something that obviously would not satisfy Mr. Klaus, particularly not since his real objective is to postpone ratification until after the British elections.

That the Sudeten issue is dynamite in Austrian politics may not be well understood outside the country. It is unthinkable Continue reading »

Oct 102009

GLENDOWER: I can call spirits from the vastly deep
HOTSPUR: Why, so can I, so can any man. But will they come when you do call for them?
(Henry IV, Act III)

The content of the “footnote” that President Klaus wants to introduce in the Lisbon Treaty has now become somewhat clearer. Apparently he wants an assurance that the Human Rights Charter would not be used as a basis for restoration claims from the Sudeten Germans whose property was confiscated when they were driven out of Czechoslovakia after the World War when the so called Benes Decrees were issued in 1946. It should be noted in this context that people -also foreigners- that were disowned by the communist regime have been very successful with restoration claims in Czechoslovakia.

This is extremely dangerous territory. The issue was, however, thoroughly discussed during the access negotiations with the Czech Republic (and with Slovenia which was in a similar situation.) At one period both Germany and Austria insisted that the Benes Decrees must be revoked before the Czech Republic could become a member.  The Czechs, under President Havel, protested vigorously. Finally the German government (Messrs Schröder and Fischer) accepted a compromise in Continue reading »

Oct 082009

A stubborn old man, of course. Czech president Vaclav Klaus shows his contempt for the EU presidency by refusing to talk  (SW) to Mr Reinfeldt, presently the President of the European Council. According to Mr. Reinfeldt, however, President Klaus insists on adding a”footnote” to the Treaty as a condition for signing (even if the Czech Constitutional Court would reject the objections made by a number of Klaus supporters). Exactly what this footnote would contain is anybody’s guess but Mr. Reinfeldt says “As far as I understand it, he’s linking this to the (EU’s) Charter of Fundamental Rights and then he wants the European Council to take a decision on this footnote”. This could probably be done only in December and there is of course no guarantee that all 26 member states would agree on Mr. Klaus’ footnote.

This last ditch effort by Klaus is of course intended to  delay the ratification until the British general election. Statements today by Mr. Cameron and his shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs leave no doubt that the UK is interested in the common market and free trade and nothing else. In other words in transforming the European Union into a super-EFTA, the ill-fated free trade area where the British cynically abandoned their partners when they could get a better deal with the  EEC.

The democratic deficit of the EU institutions is a burning and important issue. But how “democratic” is it to have the whole Continue reading »