Citigroup CEO expects solution to be found

Visiting Stockholm on Monday, Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat told business daily Dagens Industri he believes Greece will stay in the euro zone; a Greek exit would undermine confidence in the single currency.

And, commenting Britain’s planned EU referendum, Mr Corbat says he does not believe in an exit, pointing out that Britain is an important trading partner for the rest of Europe.

NATO: Sweden can’t count on our help

NATO has begun raising its profile in the Baltic region, with American soldiers constantly present for the first time in the Baltic and in Poland. At the same time opinion polls suggest support for Sweden joining the alliance has grown over the past two years. “The Swedish people and the Swedish political world must weigh up the situation and make a supremely Swedish decision,” stresses Douglas Lute, US NATO Ambassador who was in Sweden on Tuesday for talks with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Defence Ministry.
Lute emphasised that there is a difference between being a partner with NATO, such as Sweden, and being a member. Both Georgia and Ukraine are partners, which meant that when they experienced war with Russia in 2008 and 2014 respectively, they received no help from the alliance.
When asked what the effects of Sweden and Finland joining NATO would be, he answered, “It would be like a street with traffic going both ways. We would have use of the military capacity that both countries would contribute to the alliance… What Sweden would get is a life insurance, in which the current 28 NATO members would respond in accordance with article 5 of the NATO treaty.”
In response to the suggestion that joining NATO may destabilise the region, Douglas Lute says, “Russian’s actions are clearly destabilising the security situation in the Euro-Atlantic area in a clearly fundamental way.”
After visiting Stockholm, Lute is travelling to Riga, Latvia.

Focus on deeper Finnish-Swedish defence collaboration

Deeper defence collaboration in the Baltic Sea area was the focus when Finland’s new prime minister Juha Sipilä met Sweden’s prime minister Stefan Löfven last night.
During the press conference, Juha Sipilä was asked about NATO membership while it was deeper Finnish- Swedish defence and security collaboration which was emphasised in the traditional prime ministers’ meeting which is held between Swedish and Finnish governments after an election.
“From a Swedish perspective collaboration with Finland is very important. We also have that with the other Nordic countries. And we have it with NATO, a collaboration which we would also like to develop,” said Stefan Löfven. He stressed that these “different collaborations” referred to strengthening capacity and increasing security in nearby areas. “I view it in a similar way,” continued Juha Sipilä, and confirmed that Finland’s new government will continue to support sanctions against Russia.
The prime minister duo were to continue to discuss the situation in the EU over dinner.

Warning of IT attacks on Nordic region

For geopolitical reasons, Swedish authorities and state-owned companies are currently the target of Russian and Chinese state-subsidised cyber attacks, finds a new report by cyber security company Fireeye.

Jen Weddon, head of threat and intelligence analysis at Fireeye, says that one cyber attack, via email and containing information about Russia’s President Vladimir Putin during his ten-day absence from the media spotlight in March, was aimed specifically at the Nordic region’s foreign ministries.

In the case of China, the attacks against Nordic companies are primarily focused on operations in the Arctic to do with energy sourcing and maritime routes.

Hall responds to criticism

vattenfall_magnus_hall_600_256The planned divestment of Vattenfall’s German lignite business was one of the key issues on the agenda at the state-owned utility’s AGM on Monday. Left leader Jonas Sjöstedt wondered what environmental requirements were being made of potential buyers, to which CEO Magnus Hall replied: “Our view is that the environmental requirements for brown coal are a matter for the German government, not for Vattenfall”.

Hall denied rumours in the international press that the company is facing delays in the planned sale of its lignite business, following concerns over a proposed coal emissions levy.

“The process is most definitely not on hold. Our hope is that by the end of the year something will be on the table that the government can consider,” he said.

Government’s hopes may be dashed

In its defence bill, the government is positive to the idea that a new organisation to provide training on JAS Gripen fighter jets could “include new export obligations,” i.e. new deals with other countries. In reality, however, the Swedish Air Force is already stretched.

A recurring problem for the Air Force is one of maintenance. A key concept in this context is that of “accessibility,” i.e. there always needs to be a certain number of JAS Gripen fighters operational.

Major General Micael Bydén, who took over as Air Force Commander nine months ago, tells Svenska Dagbladet: “It’s no secret that we have for a while faced challenges, to put it mildly. Equally, we are keen to deal with the accessibility challenges …”. However, as a result of these challenges, the Air Force has had to put future training requirements on the back burner.

Meanwhile, in related news, as a result of the defence agreement struck between the government and three of the alliance parties, the defence budget will receive a boost of SKr 10.2 billion in the coming five years. However, fresh calculations from FOI, the Swedish Defence Research Agency, indicate that Swedish military expenditure, as a share of GDP, will in fact fall from the current level of 1.5% to under 1.1% in the next five years.

Faults reported in fighter jets

TV 4’s news programme Nyheterna reports that a problem with the anti-gravity suits used by JAS Gripen fighter pilots has led the Swedish Armed Forces to impose a limit on the altitude at which the jets may fly, and the speed at which turns may be made. The military has apparently been aware of the problem for five years.

Moreover, the displays for the navigation and radar systems occasionally shut down, sometimes simultaneously.

TV 4 also reports that at the F17 base in Rönneby the JAS Gripen instrument landing system (ILS) has frozen from time to time over the past three years.

“It seems as though the air base and the ILS are not as compatible as we would wish,” comments Robert Persson, head of flight safety at the Armed Forces.

Gripen fighter jets are the first to respond in the event of an incident in the Baltic region, and Allan Widman, Liberal chairman of the Standing Committee on Defence, is now calling on the Armed Forces to inform MPs of the situation.

“It is especially important in the security situation in which we find ourselves at this time,” he says.

Saab, the maker of the JAS Gripen, does not wish to comment the reports at present.

EU proposes doubling rescue operations

imagesEuropean Union ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday proposed doubling the size of the EU’s search and rescue operations, as the first bodies were brought ashore after what could be as many as 900 were killed in the latest capsize in the Mediterranean.

In October 2013, after 400 African migrants drowned on their way to Italy, the Italian Navy began to patrol large areas of the Mediterranean in order to rescue the migrants who were trying to make their way to Europe in rickety boats. The operation, known as Mare Nostrum, was costly and Italy requested other EU member states to help fund and participate, via the EU border agency Frontex.

Operation Triton was conceived to replace Mare Nostrum (ed.) but has fewer resources and the area patrolled is smaller. According to Frontex, Operation Triton saved the lives of 7,000 people in one year. Italy’s Mare Nostrum saved the lives of 150,000.

“More funds need to be allocated to Triton and Frontex so they can handle the situation. But we also have to stop the traffickers who send people out to sea in these kinds of boat,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström from Luxembourg yesterday.

A blockade of the coast of Libya, from where 90% of the migrants start their journey across the Mediterranean, is not feasible, since it would play into the hands of the traffickers. However, the European Commission proposed on Monday that efforts should be made to capture and smash the Libyan smugglers’ boats.

Italian PM Matteo Renzi has said that it is impossible to return the migrants to Libya, because of the chaos there.

“Everyone is agreed that the EU and the member states must back the head of the UN support mission in Libya, Bernardino Leon, and give him all he help he needs to hopefully get an international coalition government in Libya,” said Wallström on Monday.

EU heads of state and government will meet in Brussels on Thursday to discuss migration.

Björklund critical

Last Friday’s agreement between the government and the Moderates, the Centre Party and the Christian Democrats to raise the defence budget to SKr 10.2 billion for the 2016-2020 period is an important signal to the world, according to Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist.

This is a boost of SKr 2 billion annually but, under the terms of the deal, SKr 1.7 billion will go towards the increased cost of employer contributions, and SKr 1.3 billion will be transferred from the budget for international operations.

In addition to this, politicians have also decided that a battle group of around 200 soldiers and a tank unit will be based on the island of Gotland permanently as of 2018. Furthermore, additional funds will be allocated to Sweden’s hunt for foreign submarines in its waters.

Outlining the terms on Friday, Peter Hultqvist did not rule out the possibility of tax increases to finance the deal.

Liberal leader Jan Björklund has since attacked the terms of the agreement, saying it is a huge disappointment. “Our defence capability is inadequate and that is bad for Sweden,” he said.

The party leader also accused his centre-right alliance colleagues of abandoning their call for an inquiry into NATO membership; instead it was agreed that an inquiry would consider Swedish security policy in relation to the Nordic countries, the USA, the UN, the EU and NATO.

“It will come to nothing; it will be nothing more than a general analysis, which has already been made,” he said, adding that no matter how many billions Sweden spent on its defences, NATO membership would involve greater security.

The fact that a divide has now emerged among the alliance parties is “regrettable but unavoidable,” said Björklund.

“It is unfortunate for the alliance that we are going separate ways, but even more unfortunate for Sweden that our defences are not strong enough,” he remarked.