Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), is relocating from Pullach near Munich to central Berlin with some 4,000 employees. Its new home will be designed by the German architecture firm Kleihues+Kleihues.a.
In 2010 Stefan Haukur Johannesson left his post as Iceland’s ambassador in Brussels to focus on one thing. His sparsely populated North Atlantic island wanted in on the European project and he was charged with finding a way to make it happen. His current job title is ambassador and chief negotiator for Iceland’s accession to the EU. “The objective is to get a seat as a family member of the EU. We want to sit at the table as equal partners,” he tells monocle, explaining how Iceland became part of the EU’s market when it signed up to the Agreement on the European Economic Area (eea) in 1994. “At the moment they decide the menu and enjoy the dinner, whereas we are sitting outside in the corridor. We get to enjoy some of the courses, but we don’t have a seat where decisions are taken.”
Iceland’s accession to EU’s 27-strong bloc is set to be a long and complicated process. Despite the island’s Nordic social model, solid democracy and European traditions, his country’s fisheries-dependent economy and recent fiscal collapse have made Johannesson’s job all the more challenging. Issues such as the Icesave banking saga have rankled relations with UK and Dutch governments.
Johannesson admits his currency issues have been a catalyst for membership. He is adamant that Iceland’s EU membership ambitions are no panacea for the island’s economy. “It’s not to get a bail out or a quick fix, it’s a long term strategic issue in politics, security, the economy and so on.”
He insists his country has come a long way since the financial crisis in 2008. “If you compare us with the members that joined in 2004 and 2007 Iceland is exceptionally well-prepared to join,” he says. “[In March] we paid back 20 per cent of the imf loan well in advance of the deadline. We enjoyed 3 per cent economic growth last year. All the key challenges still stand, but we are cautiously ambitious.”
However, if and when Johannesson’s efforts are successful, Iceland’s EU status ultimately rests with its 323,000 population, who will make a final decision in a national referendum. Part of Johannesson’s role involves disseminating information about the pros and cons of EU status to the public. “There are lots of misconceptions about the EU,” he says. He admits some are sceptical about the nation’s influence in the EU and worried about losing their fishing rights. “Others believe it means greater economic stability, less inflation and greater competition,” he says. In the meantime he will continue to tour European nations and find a compromise that will convince both the member states and the locals.
The embassy: Johannesson divides his time between meetings at the Althingi (the Parliament of Iceland), the ministry of Foreign Affairs in Reykjavík, his offices in Brussels and various European capitals. “We also like to welcome friends and partners from Europe over to Iceland so they can see for their own eyes how we do things, what the circumstances are, the climate, the landscape,” he says.
Biggest challenge: Income from fisheries is 100 times more per capita than the EU average. Iceland says it can’t accept EU rules on discarding and argues for the creation of a special Icelandic exclusive economic marine zone.
Earlier this year Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou was re-elected, promising to improve ties with China. But now cross-Strait relations between the two countries aren’t as rosy as Ma promised, or Beijing expected. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council has said that the government won’t be cooperating with the People’s Republic of China’s much-flaunted Pingtan Cross-Strait Experimental Region project.
The Pingtan County of 126 islands in the Taiwan Strait is the closest place in mainland China to its neighbour and Bejing officials, including premier Hu Jintao, had earmarked the archipelago as China’s key Taiwan policy base with a jointly run economic zone.
Taipei’s leaders are wary of the superpower’s political motives. In his first term Ma pushed through 16 cross-strait agreements and an unprecedented consensus on investment between the two foes. On Pingtan, Ma has baulked, which may well lead to a cooling of relations.
Given its distance from its major international markets, diplomacy is of vital importance to New Zealand. But the country’s foreign service, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is to make 305 of its 1,400-strong workforce – some 21 per cent – redundant, while slashing allowances for those who remain. Some diplomats are even having to pay their own rent abroad. The ministry plans to close some embassies in Europe and make greater use of hubs, while running a tollfree hotline for Kiwis in trouble.