“Wheels up and heading to Tbilisi to open new Swedish Embassy there. Important region. Hope to be going to Baku and Yerevan soon,” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt announced on Twitter.
We learned as well via the social network that a planned two-day visit to Georgia would be cut to several hours due to unfolding events in Syria and Libya, that Rezo Gabriadze’s puppet theatre is charming, and that Sweden’s Ambassador to Georgia Diana Janse is the youngest among ambassadors of Sweden.
Tweets from Carl Bildt are marked with a sincerity uncharacteristic for high officials. It is also obvious that they are written by the Minister himself and not by his press service. Nevertheless, it is impossible to conceal surprise when, during the reception organized to inaugurate the Swedish Embassy, the Foreign Minister started tweeting from his mobile phone: “Just started to cut the huge cake at the opening of the Embassy.”
Carl Bildt’s romance with the Internet is not a new passion. In 1994, during his tenure as Swedish Prime Minister, he sent an email to U.S. President Bill Clinton which initiated the first-ever exchange between heads of state via electronic mail.
Last year, the Swedish Foreign Minister published a letter in The Washington Post in which he paraphrased Ronald Reagan by calling for the tearing down of walls erected to limit cyberspace. For Bildt, access to the Internet is no less a fundamental human right than any other.
Carl Bildt was born in 1949 in Halland, Sweden. He belongs to an old family of Norwegian-Danish-Swedish nobility. His great-great-grandfather, Baron Gillis Bildt, served as the fifth Prime Minister of Sweden. The Bildt family's Norwegian lineage dates back to King Haakon V of Norway.
“Carl Bildt is outspoken and says things that are much cleverer than most other foreign ministers,” observes Charles Grant, a researcher for the Center for European Reform, a London-based research institute. As Grant told The New York Times: “Mediocre ministers don’t like to see someone much cleverer and more knowledgeable than they are, someone who is better connected than them and has more strategic vision than they have.”
Although raised in neutral Sweden, Carl Bildt was not neutral in his attitude toward Russia during the Cold War years. In 1968, at the age of nineteen, he reported on the Soviet intervention from Prague on assignment for Radio Sweden. His attitude toward Moscow has not wavered throughout his political career either, often causing dissatisfaction among his foreign colleagues. It was Carl Bildt who compared the Russian military intervention in Georgia in 2008 with Nazi tactics and the Sudeten crisis. The Swedish Foreign Minister has also openly criticized Russia’s policy in Ukraine. Analysts believe that his straightforwardness and tough stance on Russia has irritated both Germany and France. It was precisely these factors that reportedly defeated his application for the position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union. Rumor has it that this ardent Atlantist’s career advancement in the EU structures has also been blocked because of his close ties with Washington.
As a centre-right Member of Parliament in the 1980s, Bildt gained political prominence when he opposed then-Prime-Minister Olof Palme over the violation of Swedish territorial waters by Soviet submarines. In 1986, Bildt became the leader of the Moderate Party (Sweden’s centre-right political party) and later, in 1991, the Prime Minister of Sweden.
For quite some time, right-wing politicians were perceived as something exotic in the Swedish government. The native land of Astrid Lindgren and Stieg Larsson was ruled by Social-Democrats. Thorbjörn Fälldin’s Centre Party and Carl Bildt’s Moderate Party were the exceptions.
Comparisons are often drawn between what Carl Bildt did in Sweden and what Margaret Thatcher did in Great Britain – reduced public expenditures, cut social programs and carried out the privatization of state enterprises. This course has been continued by current Swedish Prime Minister and Moderate Party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt since he came to power in 2006.
Carl Bildt’s tenure as UN High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina significantly advanced his political career and increased his standing at home. Upon returning to Sweden, he exceeded the King in popularity.
Tabula was granted the following exclusive interview with the Swedish Foreign Minister during his short stay in Tbilisi.
- Negotiations between the European Union and Georgia on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement were scheduled to start this year but – unexpectedly for the Georgian side – Brussels has set new preconditions for launching the negotiations. How can you explain that?
What is happening is that they sort of set some tougher standards in Brussels nowadays. It has nothing to do with Georgia. It is related more to the experience with other countries. This has to do primarily with the experience we’ve had in the Balkans, where some countries had been saying they were doing things, and we didn’t check it and they weren’t doing it. So the view you can hear in Tbilisi, you can also hear in Ankara. You can hear the same in Zagreb for the moment. So, the European Union is getting tougher but it has nothing to do with Georgia. I would say this is more the result of the experience with enlargement.
- How would you assess results of the reset policy with Russia?
Well, there are a couple of things that have been achieved. The Americans will tell you that the most significant thing is, of course, START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty], which is significant. More needs to come. And I think that all the government talks on this side of the fence are difficult but very important. There has been more cooperation on some critical issues, like the Middle East and Iran, than was the case before and it signals the importance as well. There has been less of reset, of course, when it comes to the process of what we Europeans consider “the common neighborhood,” where we still have frozen conflicts here in Georgia, in Transnistria and other places. We from the European side have repeatedly said that dealing with [these frozen conflicts] is really key for our relationship with Russia.
- What can the Georgian government do for the normalization of its relationship with Russia which it does not do now?
I think one has to understand that this is a problem that is not going to go away immediately. The Russian occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is going to be there for quite some time to come. So it’s important that we from the European side keep our position or principle toward integrity of Georgia. But we shouldn’t be under illusions that we can change things very fast. The most important thing now is to strengthen the reform of the democratic course and economic development of Georgia itself so as to be more attractive whenever things might start changing.
- You mentioned the democratic course. What is, in your view, the major challenge to Georgian democracy?
Georgia has come a very long way. There’s no question about that. But there remains things to be done. I know that negotiations are underway on the Electoral Law. It is important that the entire political spectrum reach agreement on that. I understand the difficulties with that. We changed our electoral law. We had discussions on it for nearly fifteen years until we could reach a final agreement on our electoral law, and it has served us for thirty years now. So there are no solutions that are one-hundred percent perfect, that meet all the objectives. But, in that scenario, compromise is clearly needed.
Then Georgia, of course, has to continue its economic development and should attract foreign investments. It is doing fairly well, but, of course, that’s a daily struggle and often depends on political stability of the wider region. And all of these things are very much helped by the European Union integration process, which gives stability, direction and credibility to the politics of Georgia.
- But the EU criticizes Georgia for an excessively liberal economic policy and demands such changes that may render Georgia unattractive for foreign investments…
Oh yes, that does happen. We had that experience in Sweden. We had an agricultural policy before [Sweden’s] entry into the European Union that was more liberal, in my opinion, better than the one of the European Union. But when we entered [the EU] we had to change that agricultural policy and now have the common European Union policy. Our farmers are happy because they’re getting a lot of subsidies, which I don’t think they deserve. But we did have to change the policy and that was part of our compromise. Sweden overall is a far better economy and a far better place, but our agricultural policies probably are not as good as they should’ve been.
- Briefly, about how consistent Europeans are in defending their principles: President Sarkozy’s six-point agreement is not implemented. Do you think this document has been forgotten in Europe?
Well, the reason why the European Union was involved in 2008 was to stop the war. We’ve never said that Russians have implemented the agreement. We always point out that it should implement it in full. So when we have EU-Russia meetings, it is always on the agenda. This is not to say [the 2008 agreement is] dominating the agenda, but it is always noted that this remains an issue of concern from our side.
- “Get Gaddafi out and freedom in” – you wrote on Twitter. How could this goal be achieved?
We would like Libya to be a sort of flourishing economy and a stable democracy within, let’s say, the next two weeks. But we have to understand that is unlikely to happen. The means that we have at our disposal to achieve this are probably not sufficient. The Libyan future must be shaped by Libyan people themselves. What we can do, and what we are trying now to do within the UN mandate, is to stop the killing and then pave the way for the political process. That political process will be Libya-owned, and then we can give it help and assistance. But we can’t decide the outcome and pace of it.
- How could the developments in the Middle East affect the fragile peace in the region? What would be the impact of a wave of revolutions on Israel?
What concerns me most at the moment is the development in Syria, where the speech of the President [of Syria on 30 March] was a disappointment. Syria is, of course, a country which is far more strategically located than Libya. Developments in Syria are going to have far greater importance.