Bildt says "unworried" about EU-Russia ties

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Bildt says "unworried" about EU-Russia ties

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Carl Bildt is foreign minister in the recently elected Swedish centre-right government. Sweden, as a Nordic country, is following with interest and concerns the difficulties the EU is having trying to create a stable relationship with Russia. As for EU economic policy, Carl Bildt thinks member states should follow the Swedish path of liberal reforms. He suggests the same policies implemented by Sweden in the early 1990’s, when he was prime minister. On foreign policy, following his experience as a mediator during the Balkan wars, he thinks NATO expansion is proving a stabilizing factor in Europe.

Q: Welcome to EuroNews. According to you it is difficult for the EU’s member states to find a solution in order to reach an agreement, a comprehensive agreement, with Russia. Are you worried about that?

A: “I mean, I’m not necessarily worried, I don’t think it’s that big an issue at the moment, I mean, the fact that we have a delay in the mandate for the PCA (Partnership & Cooperation Agreement) negotiations is not the end of the world. But I think the debate has focused on the need to discuss and develop Russian policies and more. A couple of issues have been put in focus: the use of trade weapons by Russia in a couple of cases, and I think we have a new discussion on the human rights situation and the political development in Russia. These things are not necessarily bad, but I would hope that out of that will come a somewhat more coherent policy, in addition to which of course we have all of the energy issues”.

Q: Yes, But there are some contrasts between member states. We see for instance Poland and Germany, and the Baltic countries; because of the construction of this pipeline bypassing Poland and the Baltic countries…

A: “There are of course different… well the European union is now a Union of close… well soon 27 member states, and the history of these particular states is different. I mean it’s fairly natural that the perspective of Latvia and the perspective of Portugal, say, on issues like Russia or Brazil are somehow different. It’s always going to be a complex one, because it is a complex relationship with a complex country”.

Q: But Poland is not a small country…

A: “Poland is not a small country, no, I mean all of these countries are important, be that Portugal or be that Poland, Latvia, or Greece; but they have come into the Union with their particular national perspective, like Sweden. And then we… sort of merge and mould this into common position, also including the policy toward Russia. I think it’s not doing that badly.”

Q: Sweden doesn’t seem that happy about the construction of this pipeline…

A: “Well it’s not our pipeline so we are not a part of it. It will be through the Baltic, through the areas of international waters, all through the Finnish, the Swedish and the Danish economic zones. We have a certain environmental responsibility there, and we will take that environmental responsibility seriously. As we should, indeed. The Baltic is a rather fragile marine environment, which we have seen in other cases”.

Q: Sweden is not part of NATO, it’s not a NATO member, but what is your opinion about the problems NATO is having in Afghanistan in order to find more troops?

A: “We are not member of NATO as you have pointed out, but we are part of NATO operations: be that in Kosovo, be that in Afghanistan. And currently we have a sort of concern involving a discussion that is now ongoing, how to… perhaps, we balance and change whatever we can do in order to adjust the mission in Afghanistan to increase its possibilities of success. It might be a question of more troops – I don’t know, but I would say primarily it is a question of reinforcing the economic, the civil, and political aspects of that operation. There might be somewhat more the United Nations rather than NATO and the European Union can do.”

Q: Don’t you think that some members of the EU that are also members of NATO should make an additional effort in order to give more troops?

A: “Well, let’s look at that, I don’t think we should see Afghanistan as an operation, I mean a state building operation as this is, and I’ve been involved in quite a number of them, are not necessarily, primarily military operations. Security is sort of the bottom line that is necessary, but if you fail with the political and the economic… for example the drug issue is absolutely critical. If you don’t get rid of the enormous increase, of the enormous amount of poppy production that we have here, no amount of troops, no amount of troops is going to help. So we need to focus on some of the real issues, not only on meeting some troop targets, or kill ratios or whatever… some body count approach, which I think there was a tendency towards for a while.”

Q: What do you think about the expansion of NATO to other countries, such as Ukraine or Georgia?

A: “Well, not my issue really, but we saw the expansion of NATO very positively, with the enlargement of NATO that happened into Central Europe and the Baltic countries, I think that did contribute to the stability of this particular area and to the stability of the policies pursued by them. So there’s no doubt that the Atlantic alliance is one of the cornerstones of security in very important parts of Europe. Ukraine doesn’t really seek a NATO membership at this particular period of time. Georgia is another issue, but it’s really up to NATO primarily to take those decisions.”

Q: Sweden is starting an important process of reforming, of state deregulation of the economy. Do you think that Europe, as a whole, needs such a bold initiative?

A: “Clearly. We took the lead together with Finland, I might say, in the early nineties. Telecommunications, to take one example… We were a sort of more liberal and more radical in our liberalism than Margaret Thatcher was in the UK. And we have been spectacularly successful in telecommunications as a consequence of that, there are other factors as well, and that policy that we did in the early 90’s became the European union policy for all countries by the late 90’s. So I think we have showed by a quite number of examples that will continue in a number of areas, that if we have more flexible economies, more open to the world, we are more successful in generating growth and eventually, and that has been a problem in our case, in generating employment as well.”

Q: Are you going to be the next high representative for European foreign policy?

A: “No, no I am not; I’m foreign minister of Sweden and will remain so for quite some time to come. We have rather important upcoming issues; we have the presidency coming up in the late part of 2009, so I think that will keep me fairly busy.”