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The Diplomatic Dispatch

The British Ambassador to Sweden blogs on The Local

Archive for February, 2013

Europe, energy, and the green growth economy

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Last week I spent two fascinating days in Uppsala, talking to students about UK views on the future of Europe, and meeting local politicians, businesses and academics.

I stressed, as I did at a meeting with the British-Swedish Chamber of Commerce, the UK’s commitment to the EU, but also our recognition of the need for reform.

We had a top UK politician in Stockholm last week.

The Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey, met his Swedish counterparts, Anna-Karin Hatt and Lena Ek. He also talked to actual and potential Swedish investors in the UK.

There’s a huge opportunity for Swedish investors in the UK energy market.  We need £110 billion investment over the next decade to replace our ageing energy infrastructure (coal fired power plants and nuclear energy) with a more diverse and low-carbon energy mix, particularly more renewable energy.

We start the process of decarbonising our economy a long way behind Sweden, given your natural advantages. Our aim is to have 15% of our energy from renewable by 2020 (which is our EU target), whereas Sweden is already, I think, getting more than triple that, almost half its energy, from renewables.

But we’re committed to meeting our goals: indeed we’ve set a long term goal of cutting carbon emissions by 80% by 2050; that is why it is so important that we increase the share of our energy we get from renewables alongside other low carbon technologies such as carbon capture and storage.

Ed Davey and Lena Ek talked to their Danish and Dutch counterparts about the need to make the case, in the EU and beyond, for a Green Growth strategy, showing that making the planet healthier is fully compatible with continuing to grow our economies. That will also be a theme when David Cameron goes to Latvia to meet his Nordic and Baltic counterparts at the third Northern Future Forum this week.

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European diplomacy in action

Monday, February 18th, 2013

In last week’s Riksdag debate on foreign policy, Carl Bildt highlighted the progress that the EU has made through the Eastern Partnership – a Sweden/Poland initiative, of which the UK has been a strong supporter.

That support will be seen in action this week when British Foreign Secretary Hague makes a joint visit to Moldova with Foreign Minister Bildt and Poland’s Foreign Minister Sikorski.

The visit comes at a sensitive political time in Moldova. The European message will be pursue an ambitious reform programme. Respect for human rights, combating corruption, and creating a stable, predictable and transparent business environment are all crucial to moving forward.

But before heading for Moldova our Foreign Ministers will meet on Monday in Brussels at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting. There they will have detailed discussions about many of today’s big issues, such as helping the people of Syria, countering the threat of proliferation and regional security arising from North Korea’s recent missile launch, and also the EU’s response to the Mali crisis.

This week, I too am travelling, including to talk about Britain’s views on the Future of Europe debate at Uppsala university.

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EU and US – partners for prosperity

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

As Carl Bildt underlined in the Riksdag today, the US is Europe’s main international partner, on the security and prosperity agendas.

So the UK government welcomes, as Sweden does, President Obama’s call in his State of the Union Speech last night for what he called “a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership” with the EU. Britain has been arguing hard for this, including in our role as G8 presidency.

David Cameron said today:

“It’s great that President Obama has set out his determination to agree a trade deal between the EU and the United States. We discussed this issue on Monday and we are both committed to launching negotiations this year. A deal will create jobs on both sides of the Atlantic and make our countries more prosperous. Breaking down the remaining trade barriers and securing a comprehensive deal will require hard work and bold decisions on both sides. But I am determined to use my chairmanship of the G8 to help achieve this and to help European and American businesses succeed in the global race.”

Our Trade Minister, Lord Green added that this was a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to liberalise trade fully between the world’s two largest trading blocs. An agreement could boost the European economy by more than £50bn – the biggest prize from any trade deal currently under way.”

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Dead Poet’s Society

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Someone once said an Ambassador was a man (they were only men in those days) sent abroad to lie for his country.

I sometimes feel that a modern definition would include at least as part of the job description being sent abroad to eat for his country.

But when you’re eating something as tasty as haggis, Scotland’s national dish, and drinking Scots whisky (in moderate amounts, of course), it’s a pleasant duty.

In the last few weeks, I’ve attended three excellent Burns suppers (see below for an explanation, if you need one!), one hosted by RBS in Stockholm, another also in Stockholm by the Caledonian Society, and a third, last week in Gothenburg, jointly by RBS and SKF, whose CEO Tom Johnstone (no relation, sadly) is also from Bonnie Scotland.

I was honoured to make the “Tack för maten” speech at the Gothenburg dinner and told the story of my rather unusual family connection with Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet, whose birthday is celebrated in the annual Burns suppers.

My great, great uncle, ie my grandmother’s uncle, was a Scots poet called Roger Quin. He was born in Dumfries, the Scottish town where Robert Burns is buried.

Quin gave a Burns supper speech himself over a hundred years ago in which we spoke of the extraordinary circumstances in which, as a young boy, he was able to touch the skull of Scotland’s greatest writer. It was doubtless a moment which inspired his subsequent career, including some great romantic and comic poems.

It was a great honour to be able to tell the story to a distinguished group of Swedish and British business people in Gothenburg last Friday night.

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Green Deal and greener dealing

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Last week, two notable “green” events came to my attention.

First, the UK government launched The Green Deal.

This encourages property owners to make energy-saving improvements by allowing them to off-set costs against reductions in their bills. In other words, you can now pay for the the improvements over time on your electricity bill, rather than having to find the money up front. The typical household’s monthly saving on energy costs is expected to be more than the cost of the monthly repayments.

This programme is expected to:

• Boost the low carbon economy through the creation of up to 60,000 jobs in the insulation sector alone by 2015

• Provide new financing opportunities for consumers

• Enable businesses to better compete for energy efficiency opportunities; and

• Open up the energy efficiency market to new consumers and producers.

The Green Deal should also provide significant further opportunities for Swedish business to invest in the UK energy sector. Our UKTI team (Jenny Gardner and Daniel Nutley in the Embassy) can provide more information.

Also last week, the Sustainable Fashion Academy in Sweden gave its Global Leadership Award for Sustainable Apparel to the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the UK non-profit organization, Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

The Award aims to identify and share best practice in order to accelerate sustainability within the clothing and fashion industry. DEFRA and WRAP were recognised for their leadership in demonstrating the role of government in ensuring the clothing and fashion industries respond successfully to global trends – particularly, environmental and social challenges.

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