• Sweden edition
 
Stockholm Diplomatic Files
'Our baguettes are from Finland': French envoy

'Our baguettes are from Finland': French envoy

Published: 21 Dec 2012 16:40 GMT+01:00
Updated: 21 Dec 2012 16:40 GMT+01:00

A red-haired Viking puts a smile on the face of France's discrete ambassador, who took on the task of managing French affairs with the relatively sedate Sweden after years of high-octane crisis response efforts at the United Nations in New York.

“I had to stop telling people that Röde Orm was my favourite Swedish book because I didn’t want to give the impression that I’m comparing Sweden today to what it was like in the 11th century,” says Jean-Pierre Lacroix, France’s ambassador to Sweden since 2011.

Röde Orm, translated to ‘The Long Ships’ in English, is the tale of a red-haired Viking zipping across the planet. Despite the ambassador keeping his appreciation of what he calls a “witty and tongue-in-cheek page-turner” under wraps, Lacroix still thinks it invites comparisons with modern Sweden.

“Swedes can be very merry, they’ll sit down for dinner parties for hours, and they still like to travel the world,” he says.

It is rather apt that a diplomat cites a tale of travel among his favourite books.

Lacroix also mentions Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad, both authors dealing with the human heart and morality, fitting favourites for someone who spent a large part of his career at the United Nations in a “carousel of crises”, ranging from Georgia to Darfur.

"It was intense," Lacroix says with a wistful tone.

The minimalist corridors of the French Embassy in Stockholm are a far cry from the green marble of the UN’s Modernist tower by the East River.

The ambassador is soft spoken and measured, although the travails of Röde Orm does bring a smile to his face.

Lacroix studied at Sciences Po Paris and ENA, two of the top universities in France that have long groomed the country's political and bureaucratic elites. He slightly dodges a question, true to the required skills of any diplomat, about whether social mobility has improved in France, and whether it is easier to work your way up in Sweden.

"I would say, looking at lawmakers, that the Swedish politicians more closely resemble the electorate in terms of age, gender and ethnicity," Lacroix notes.

"Whether that extends to business is a different question. I would say the development is slower, the top crust is still dominated by middle-aged men."

In fact, although Sweden is oft cited as an example of a country that takes gender equality seriously, France seems to have outsprinted the Swedes in one area.

“We support moves on a European level to have quotas for women in company boards, which Sweden does not,” Lacroix points out.

“France and Sweden do see eye-to-eye on many things but it is a philosophical debate where Sweden takes a more liberal approach than we do.”

Swedish lawmakers have not always been so laissez-market-faire. When France’s equality minister visited Sweden in October 2012, she asked to learn more about the Swedish move to outlaw buying, rather than selling, sex.

French lawmakers are hoping to introduce a similar law at home by summer 2013.

In general, Lacroix feels that many French have an image of Sweden as much more leftwing than it is. He often feels compelled to explain the many changes to social services and public administration that Sweden has enacted in the past decade.

Complexity, and communicating that complexity in both directions, is “what makes my role interesting,” Lacroix says.

Reversely, he feels many Swedes are stuck with an older, traditional image of France, a country with strict hierarchies and a propensity for labour strikes. The reality in France “and all European countries” is much more complex, he says.

“There is no point in painting a picture of your country that is too rosy, that is not credible, but we can show its complexity.”

He thinks the space dedicated to French news in Swedish media is “reasonable”, but adds, almost as an afterthought, that more background and detail would not go amiss in most press, not just the Swedish newspapers.

“Although we have no official comment on how the press behaves, we are not North Korea.”

He does, however, offer an example where he would have liked to see more background.

“The Depardieu story, for example, was catchy but there wasn’t much description of government policy,” Lacroix notes.

The story of French actor Gerard Depardieu moving to Belgium to escape new taxes made headlines worldwide. Most renditions of the story focused on the film star escaping a Robin Hood tax on the rich.

As far as sweeping public spending cuts and tax hikes for middle-income earners were concerned, however, precious few column inches were set aside, Lacroix notes.

“Everyone has been asked to contribute to tackle the budget deficit.”

That everyone pitch in has, of course, also been the flavour of the year more widely in Europe. Everyone from Swedes to Romanians, from French to Estonians have been forced to rub shoulders more than ever in the off-white corridors of Brussels to sort out the European debt crisis.

“No one thinks the job is done,” Lacroix says.

“But our job has been to reassure the outside world that we will defend the euro. I’d say that 2012 was the year that our determination beat the scepticism.”

Of Sweden’s role he says simply that the union must find a way to safeguard all actors’ influence, but find a way to relate it to how directly those actors are affected. Sweden does not, after all, have the euro.

"But I think Sweden has a keen interest in a strong eurozone," Lacroix says.

"There is a lot of common sense in Sweden so I’m not worried about Sweden vis-à-vis the EU.

“The Swedes have questions about how to preserve their country’s influence when the eurozone is integrating. One used to talk about a two-speed union, with euro and non-eurozone members, but the truth is that it is probably a three-speed or many-speed union by now.

“We need to be creative and flexible. Many europhiles want to emphasize the idea of the EU as a peace project but I think it is in essence a pragmatic union. It is cumbersome and it is time-consuming, and we have to define constantly what our common European interests are, but the union is feasible as long as there is a willingness to work together.

“The union allows us to attain critical mass, it gives us clout. The alternative is for each country to fend for itself against the big guys like the US, China and India."

These are not, of course, surprising words from a French diplomat. But after this long chat about inter-European fraternité, The Local somewhat unwittingly stumbles across something that ties into the free trade esprit of the European Union, but at the same time could be rather insulting to Swedish bakers.

The French embassy in Stockholm imports its baguettes frozen from Finland.

Ann Törnkvist

Follow Ann on Twitter here

Your comments about this article

10:54 December 29, 2012 by andrewsrocks
At least I am not the only one thinking that swedish bread is insufferable.
Today's headlines
Business & Money
American sales squeeze Ericsson profits
Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg presents the third-quarter earnings report at the company's headquarters in Kista. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

American sales squeeze Ericsson profits

Swedish telecoms equipment maker Ericsson reported a decline in net profit in the third quarter despite an increase in sales, boosted by business in emerging markets. READ  

Interview
'Too many concerts feel the same'
Sofar hosts secret gigs in Swedish apartments. Photo: Sofar

'Too many concerts feel the same'

Kattis Bjork founded Stockholm's secret gig scene - Sofar - a year ago. The Local caught up with her as she prepared to celebrate the project's anniversary this weekend and revealed the concept will spread to other Swedish cities in 2015. READ  

Stockholm 'sub hunt'
Sweden calls off suspect submarine search
Ships are returning to shore in Sweden. Photo: TT

Sweden calls off suspect submarine search

The core search for a suspected foreign vessel in Swedish waters has been called off. The armed forces said they remained convinced foreign underwater activity had taken place but had not identified an intruder. READ  

Business & Money
US and Japan fuel surge for Volvo trucks
Ed Carbaugh prepares to install parts on a truck engine on an assembly line at Volvo Trucks' powertrain manufacturing facility in Hagerstown, Maryland, March 2014. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP

US and Japan fuel surge for Volvo trucks

Sweden's Volvo, the world's second-largest maker of trucks, said Friday it saw a spike in profits in the third quarter, boosted by thriving sales in the US and Japanese markets. READ  

Inspectors attacked at rogue doc’s surgery
Cigarettes and beer photo: Shutterstock

Inspectors attacked at rogue doc’s surgery

Inspectors who were sent to shut down a doctor’s surgery in Gothenburg were physically attacked and fled the premises to get help from the police. READ  

Police turn Swede’s vodka into water
A Swede loads a car with alcohol in northern Germany. File photo: Drago Prvulovic/TT

Police turn Swede’s vodka into water

Swedish police say they will pay a man 16,000 kronor ($2,200) in damages after much of the alcohol they confiscated from him was stolen, while many of the bottles they returned were filled with water. READ  

Diplomacy
US to get first female ambassador in Sweden
File photo: Athena Center for Leadership Studies

US to get first female ambassador in Sweden

The United States Embassy in Stockholm is set to get its first female ambassador after the White House announced it was nominating the Iranian-American ex-investment banker Azita Raji to take over from Mark Brzezinski. READ  

Neo-Nazi attacks
Neo-Nazis cleared of knife attack on Nigerian
Police intervene after neo-Nazis attack an anti-Nazi rally in Kärrtorp, December 2013. Photo: Hampus Andersson/TT

Neo-Nazis cleared of knife attack on Nigerian

A Stockholm court has cleared three neo-Nazis of stabbing a Nigerian man in an unprovoked attack. But two of the men will face jail after they were convicted of racial agitation at a riot. READ  

Julian Assange
Assange court ruling expected on Monday
Julian Assange at Ecuador's embassy in the UK. Photo: Anthony Devlin

Assange court ruling expected on Monday

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can expect the next court ruling on his case to take place on Monday October 27th in Stockholm. READ  

Politics
Sweden to get EU 'Christmas present'
Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven at an EU summit in Brussels this week. Photo: TT

Sweden to get EU 'Christmas present'

Sweden is set to get 1.2 billion kronor ($168 million) back from the EU on December 1st, according to leaked EU documents which suggest that other European countries will have to make large top-up payments this year. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
What's On in Sweden: October 24th - 31st
Gallery
People-watching: October 22nd
Gallery
In Pictures: Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist
Lifestyle
Eight things to love about renting a Swedish apartment
National
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
Blog updates

24 October

Editor’s blog, October 24th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Get ready to read our weekly digest of Swedish news in less than 60 seconds. The..." READ »

 

24 October

Is darkness weather? (Blogweiser) »

"I try very hard not to talk about the weather. This has come after a decade..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Sub hunt: Day-by-day
National
Sub hunt: Stockholm islanders share their fears with The Local
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
National
Get 20% off unique Swedish homeware
National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
Gallery
People-watching: October 19th
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden: October 17th - 24th
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
What's on in Sweden: October 10th - 17th
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Gallery
People-watching: October 8th
National
Five facts to know about Patrick Modiano
Society
My Swedish Career: A French fashionista in Sweden
Society
Swede's anti-bully Facebook tale goes viral
Society
Have you seen Sweden's viral subway cancer campaign?
National
Isis: Swedes linked to Turkish prisoner swap
National
Should Swedes be banned from buying sex abroad?
Gallery
Fredrik Reinfeldt's leaving presents
National
Five Swedish TV shows you shouldn't miss
Gallery
A tool belt, a casserole, and a book. Fredrik Reinfeldt's parliament gifts
TT
Lifestyle
Top five winter festivals in Sweden
TT
National
Sami reindeer herders win mine reprieve
Gallery
Property of the Week: Gamla Enskede
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

991
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN