• 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
Sport
Sweden's star striker Zlatan 'recovering well'
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is Sweden's top scorer in history. PHOTO: TT/Maja Suslin

Sweden's star striker Zlatan 'recovering well'

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is recovering well from the nagging heel problem that has stopped him playing for Sweden during its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. READ  

International
Swedish sisters create viral Syria stir
A shot from the video on YouTube.

Swedish sisters create viral Syria stir

Two sisters from Södertälje near Stockholm are celebrating getting more than 1.3 million hits on YouTube, with a video calling for peace in war-torn Syria. READ  

Pirate Bay
Pirate Bay founder gets three years in prison
A 2013 image of Svartholm Warg. Photo: TT

Pirate Bay founder gets three years in prison

Swedish "hactivist" Gottfrid Svartholm Warg has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for hacking crimes. READ  

Royal family
Princess Madeleine to make Nobel comeback
Princess Madeleine at a previous Nobel banquet. Photo: TT

Princess Madeleine to make Nobel comeback

Sweden's Princess Madeleine is scheduled to appear at the Nobel Festival in Stockholm in December, after taking time out from her royal duties to focus on looking after her daughter. READ  

Politics
'We knew that Israel would be critical'
Foreign Minister Margot Wallström (left), with Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: TT

'We knew that Israel would be critical'

Sweden's Foreign Minister has told The Local she respects Israel's decision to recall its ambassador after Sweden officially recognized the State of Palestine, and laughed off comments about IKEA furniture made by her Israeli counterpart. READ  

Analysis
'Store up your sunlight hours before winter'
Doctors say we should make the most of the autumn sunshine. Photo: Shutterstock

'Store up your sunlight hours before winter'

Spending time outdoors this autumn will help you survive a cold, dark Swedish winter. Baba Pendse, Head of Psychiatry at Lund University shares his top tips for battling the seasonal blues with The Local. READ  

Sports
Plot for shared Scandi Winter Olympic bid
Skiers hit the slopes in Åre, western Sweden. Photo: TT

Plot for shared Scandi Winter Olympic bid

Norwegian sports officials have said they want to co-host the winter Olympics with Sweden in 2026. But there has so far been no official response from Sweden. READ  

National
Anti-Israel graffiti 'not a race crime': Court
Photo: TT

Anti-Israel graffiti 'not a race crime': Court

A teenage boy who painted anti-Israel slogans and symbols on the Concert Hall in Gothenburg has been convicted for the damages he caused, but he walked free from racial agitation charges. READ  

Entertainment
A closer look at Sweden's rising stars
Swedish actresses Sandra Huldt and Julia Ragnarsson. Julia (right) has been nominated for a Rising Star award. Photo: TT

A closer look at Sweden's rising stars

Like to be ahead of the game when it comes to the next big thing on the silver screen? We find out more about the Swedish nominees for the Rising Star award to be presented at Stockholm's International Film Festival next week. READ  

Science
Swedish women in two-year sex pill study
Contraceptive pills have been linked to mood swings. Photo: Shutterstock

Swedish women in two-year sex pill study

Three hundred women from across Sweden are taking part in a study designed to demonstrate that modern contraceptive pills don't lead to decreased libido or mood swings. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
Stockholm's shocking take on Halloween
Sport
Top ten quotes from Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
People-watching: October 30th
National
Sweden remains fourth best for gender equality
Blog updates

31 October

Editor’s Blog, October 31st (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello readers, Welcome to our latest 60-second round-up of the week’s news. First, Sweden made headlines around the..." READ »

 

29 October

Scariest day (Blogweiser) »

"This is what’s frightening me on Halloween. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4OFZVCu8J0&list=UUJu5J7jG4uoYSjWbpFsJBuQ Follow my posts on FB. ..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Timeline: Julian Assange sex allegations
Sport
World Cup ski race on 'fake' Stockholm slope
Society
An Arctic tradition: hunting and handicraft
Society
Stockholm taxis offer free therapy sessions
National
The Local meets Health Minister Gabriel Wikström
Gallery
Property of the week: Österåker
Society
Homeless turtles get Stockholm police ride
National
Construction worker has 'Sweden's best beard'
National
Italian musician jazzes up Sweden's Lapland
Gallery
Zlatan's career in pictures
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching: October 25th and 26th
Lifestyle
'Swedes are funnier than they think'
National
Swedish town 'like Venice' after heavy rains
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
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
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
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
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
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

989
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