Tales of the Interregnum

First, Radoslaw Sikorski told Gazeta Wyborcza. Then Donald Tusk told the German newspaper whose web site is better than it used to be.

Sikorski — who is Poland’s foreign minister, used to be its defense minister and is married to Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum — said that proceeding with the proposed American missile defense sites in his country would definitely have political costs, and it was not clear whether something might change on the American side. His country was not prepared to incur definite costs for something that might not come to pass anyway.

Translation: Bush is out of power in 368 days (not that anyone’s counting), and his administration can go and whistle.

Tusk told the Frankfurter Allgemeine essentially the same thing. He was more tactful, of course, saying decisions about the program didn’t have to “be a race.” His Czech counterpart, Mirek Topolanek, was equally circumspect. He said that quality was more important than speed.

Translation: Prime Ministers let their cabinet colleagues speak more directly, but really, Bush is out of power in 368 days (not that anyone’s counting), and his administration can go and whistle.

So it’s an interesting period in transatlantic relations. Bush-administration initiatives are getting shelved, the succession is unclear, and what the successor’s policy will be like is even more unclear. Politics and vacuums being what they are, some unusual things could bubble up at the working level, or unexpected players could be taking initiatives. But as the Czech and Polish leaders are pointing out, pet projects of the outgoing US administration that are widely opposed in their countries will not find much favor.

I had hoped that Daniel Davies would work up another nifty model for when people would stop paying attention to Bush, but it looks like we have empirical data.

Another blackout in Albania

So Albania had a country-wide blackout yesterday. (N.B., I’m not going to post about Albania every day. It’s just sort of random.) They’ve had plenty of blackouts before, but this was the first one to talke the whole country down. It lasted for several hours. Fortunately, it happened on a warm day, so nobody froze and there don’t seem to have been any deaths. Still, not good.

Albania has problems with electricity, and has had since… well, pretty much always. Communist dictator Enver Hoxha tried to electrify the whole country, but he did it in a really slapdash way, with generators, equipment and networks ranging from ramshackle to crappy. The country gets all its electrity from Communist-era hydropower plants; hydropower is clean and all that, but the generators are old and in need of constant repair and a season of bad rain (common in Albania) can turn the lights off.
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Kosovo, Kosovo, blah blah blah

So Kosovo continues to creep — soooo slowly — towards some sort of independence.

Serbia is having a Presidential election this weekend, with a runoff two weeks later. There’s a tacit agreement that nothing should happen before then… the assumption being that Kosovar independence might tip the balance between the incumbent President (moderate and basically decent Boris Tadic) and his challenger (odious populist-nationalist Tomislav Nikolic).

Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica — who, honestly, seems to be getting dumber and more stubborn with each passing year — has said that if the EU sends a mission to Kosovo, Serbia won’t sign a Stabilization and Association agreement with the EU. Brussels has said it will wait a bit (i.e., until after the election). I can see the case for that, but once the election is over… well, this strikes me as the sort of bluff that’s crying out to be called. “Oh, we won’t take the next step towards EU candidacy!” “Fine… don’t.”
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Oil in Albania

Just ran across this interesting report on possible new oil reserves in… Albania.

Gustavson assigns 2.987 billion barrels with 3.014 trillion cubic feet of associated gas as the P50 prospective oil resources in its oil with associated gas case. Gustavson notes that because of the depth it is possible that the prospects will hold natural gas. In its oil with a gas cap case Gustavson calculates the prospective resources to total 1.4 billion barrels of light oil and 15 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Gustavson estimates that in the event only gas is present the P50 prospective resource is 28 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Gustavson is a major petroleum engineering firm, so this should be taken seriously.

Just under 3 billion barrels, of which 1.4 bn is the easy-to-refine light oil: how much is that? Well, by way of comparison, Saudi Arabia has 260 billion barrels of proven reserves, and Mexico has 12 billion. So this is not exactly a new Caspian Sea. Albania won’t be joining OPEC. On the other hand, it’s not chump change either.

And the natural gas is nice too — 15 trillion cubic feet is enough to make it worth running a pipeline north to Central Europe. In the next decade, the Swiss and Germans may be heating their homes in part with Albanian gas. It’s not going to eliminate Europe’s reliance on Russian hydrocarbon, or even much reduce it. But it’ll help a bit.

Albania already has some modest oil fields — enough to supply about half the local energy needs. Fortunately for Albania, this hasn’t resulted in massive local subsidies; oil there costs only a bit less than elsewhere in the region. (I say “fortunately” because if it had subsidies, they’d now be impossible to get rid of.) It also has a couple of refineries, so it would be able to capture that much more value before sending the oil along.

The fields are at least three years away from exploitation, and probably more. So Albania will go through another election cycle, and will have some time to get ready. It will need to. While the amount of money involved is modest on the scale of global or even European oil transactions, it’s pretty big in an Albanian context.

A Big Hand for Slovenia!

Liberation operates a clutch of good blogs; as well as AFOE Satin Pajama nominee Jean Quatremer’s Coulisses de Bruxelles, which everyone knows, there’s also an absolutely cracking blog on French and European national security issues.

They point out here that Slovenia, which took over as holder of the EU presidency on the 1st of January, is militarily the tiniest of states, with a total of 7,349 men in arms, one ship, a dozen Pilatus turboprop planes and 4 Cougar helicopters. It’s got to be one of the few good points about the rotating presidency that it is unrivalled in its ability to distribute power on the international stage to states this small and otherwise unknown.

On the other hand, though, as Secret Defense also points out, the EU is still struggling to put together the promised peacekeeping mission to Chad. The problems are essentially that the member states are not forking out to provide enough support helicopters and tactical transport aircraft to support the force in part of the world with essentially no infrastructure. There is not really a shortage of choppers; even Slovenia has four, right? However, they are one of those assets which is always in short supply; national armies are very unwilling to part with them.

The UK, meanwhile, is faced with a highly helivorous commitment in Afghanistan which has led it to buy Merlins from Denmark and Portugal in order to form another Naval helicopter squadron. It’s hard to see a specifically European solution to this; it certainly seems sensible that countries like Slovenia might contribute cash (as they will soon be a net contributor) rather than maintain a micro-air force, but this is always going to be a hard sell. There’s also an argument that dispersing these capabilities among smaller states means they will be more available for EU tasks; Austria isn’t likely to invade Iraq. What say the comments?

And you thought I was joking…

Ha. You thought this was an exercise in strategic trolling. Think again; the French Navy’s helicopter carrier Jeanne d’Arc pulled into New York on the 28th for a port call, and to deliver a consignment of books for schools in New Orleans. (French ones, naturally.) Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani’s primary campaign took a misstep when he badly misjudged his core constituency

«Un sondage montre que 67 % des Américains pensent que le pays est sur la mauvaise voie…», annonce Rudolph Giuliani à une centaine de supporteurs réunis dans un petit restaurant de Hampton, dans le New Hampshire. Costume noir rayé, cravate rouge, l’ex-maire de New York en campagne pour la Maison Blanche balaie d’un regard contrarié la foule trop éparse. «Connaissez-vous un autre pays qui soit plus mal en point que ça ?» «La France !» lance un militant arborant un macaron «Rudy for president», aussitôt approuvé par l’assistance. «Pas du tout !» bondit Giuliani. «Nicolas Sarkozy a écrit un livre excellent sur son programme, qu’il met en œuvre en ce moment», rétorque-t-il à son auditoire un peu confondu.

I’m not sure which is funnier – Giuliani trying to push France as an example to his war-crazed freedom fries base (this is the guy who hired Dan Senor and Norman Podhoretz, mark) or the notion that Sarko is still new, revolutionary or exciting.

I spent enough time on this blog trying to dispel the myth of “Sarkozy, France’s Margaret Thatcher” that iit’s wearying to repeat any of it; but essentially all the media beyond France, and much of it within France, got him completely, embarrassingly wrong. Rather than offering a dramatic ideological break, Sarko is much better understood as a Blair or Berlusconi figure; heavily reliant on a dominant media owner (his own media for Berlusconi; Murdoch’s for Blair; Lagardere and the wave of late-Chirac appointments at France Televisions for Sarkozy), wrapping a fundamentally conservative message in the cult of newness and business style. Security, property prices, and TV.

It’s like Chirac with more caffeine. This is unlikely to change much; the long-awaited ruck with the Left over special pension provisions has resulted in the issue being punted to tripartite negotiations with business and the unions, and the flagship economic policy (introducing mortgage tax relief) was derailed by the courts. Although it’s still theoretically on the agenda, nobody is now expecting a property boom any time soon.

What Sarko is probably worrying about is more that his fiscal boost came before the credit crisis; €15bn of tax cuts that fell precisely the wrong side of the cycle.

Emergency operation from Bondi Junction

A happy new year to all of you, gentle readers. You may have noticed that afoe has experienced a certain number of technical glitches over the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately, no one was able to figure out what exactly caused the problems, CMS, our Javascript, or changes our host made to the php implementation used, since there was no real pattern of occurence, just annoyance. Since I am usually taking care of the technical side of the afoe operations, but currently on a longer trip through Australia, I decided that some emergency operation was needed to keep the boat afloat for the immediate future.

What you are seeing now is the result thereof – it’s a temporary design that will be replaced by the familiar afoe theme as soon as I have figured out what exactly has been causing the problems for both the frontend and the backend themes.