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Uproar over rumoured NY consulate closure

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11:29 CEST+02:00
Reports that Sweden plans to close down its consulate-general in New York City have sparked an outpouring of concern from business leaders and New York-based Swedes.

The news first emerged in an April 9th report by Sveriges Radio (SR) detailing several diplomatic facilities under consideration for closure by Sweden's foreign ministry.

Sweden's consulates in Los Angeles and Canton, China, as well as embassies in Sri Lanka and Guatemala were also mentioned as targets for closure, according to SR.

New York consulate staff have also received signals from the ministry which they interpret as confirming that the consulate is indeed on the chopping block, according to the TT news agency.

When contacted by The Local, a spokesperson at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Stockholm refused to confirm or deny the reports, saying only that “discussions are ongoing”.

“What I can say is the foreign ministry is constantly reviewing our operations,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Amelie Heinsjö.

Nevertheless, Swedish business leaders in New York have launched a campaign to voice their disapproval over the rumoured closing of the Swedish consulate there.

The board of directors of the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce of New York (SACC-NY) has drafted a letter to Foreign Minister Carl Bildt in which they say that closing the consulate would have “monumental negative consequences” for Swedish interests.

Several prominent Swedish business leaders have signed on to the letter, including former ABB head Percy Barnevik, current Electrolux CEO Hans Stråberg, and Lars G. Nordström, the former head of Nordea bank.

“I understand that cuts need to be made in times like these. But the consulate-general…there are 108 consulates-general here in New York and none are closing; quite the opposite, actually. Our Nordic neighbours are thinking of expanding,” said Renée Lundholm, head of SACC-NY, to TT.

Many rank-and-file members of the roughly 30,000-strong community of Swedes residing in the New York area have also joined the movement to save the consulate from being shuttered.

An online petition has attracted close to 1,000 signatures and others are frantically emailing their contacts to spread the word about the growing movement to save the consulate from closure.

On a forum associated with the petition, one signatory described the move as “highly questionable”, adding sarcastically that the decision would be “about as smart as moving the Riksdag out of Stockholm”.

Mona Johnsson, a Swede who has lived in the city since the early 1960s, immediately set about putting together her own list of names when she heard the news.

“It's really important for Sweden as a country to have a consulate-general here in New York,” she told The Local.

She also plans on sending her list of nearly 650 names to Bildt, who has the final say in any decision to close Swedish diplomatic facilities.

On Tuesday, Anders Hjelmtorp, the head of Export Music Sweden, also sent a note urging “common sense” to Bildt, as well as finance minister Anders Borg and trade minister Eva Björling.

In another protest letter, Scott Greenstein, President and Chief Content Officer of satellite radio provider Sirius XM Radio in the United States which boasts 150 stations and 20 million subscribers, expresses his disapproval for the plans, pointing to the New York consulate's importance to music industry and music exports.

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