Sweden to close New York and LA consulates

The Swedish foreign ministry announced on Thursday it was closing one embassy and four consulates general, including those in New York and Los Angeles due to budget constraints.

The official announcement of the closures, which have been rumoured for months, comes despite vociferous opposition to the move from US-based Swedes and the Swedish business community.

In addition to the closings in the US, Sweden will also shutter consulates in Guangzhou, China and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, as well as the embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

In announcing the closures, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt blamed the move on budget shortfalls begun under the previous Social Democratic government.

“When I took office as Minister for Foreign Affairs in autumn 2006, the Ministry had a budget deficit of over 50 million kronor ($6.6 million). The deficit had been built up over several years and the previous government maintained activities that had no financing,” Bildt said in a statement.

“With these changes, we will balance the budget and at the same time renew working methods.”

The cuts are part of a broader cost-savings effort which will reduce the ministry’s real estate outlays by 50 million kronor annually and eliminate 100 positions by the end of 2010.

When rumours about the possible closure of Sweden’s consulates general in New York and Los Angeles began circulating earlier this spring, many US-based Swedes as well as members of the Swedish business community voiced their displeasure over the plans.

The Swedish American Chamber of Commerce of New York (SACC-NY) warned of “monumental negative consequences” and sent a letter to Bildt urging him to reconsider the decision.

But in the end, the ministry’s budgetary challenges took precedence.

According to the ministry, Sweden’s consulate-general in Los Angeles will be closed by the end of 2009, at which point the embassy in Washington, DC will take over responsibility for the nine honourary consulates which currently report to the Los Angeles consulate.

Efforts are also underway to find a way to open an honourary consulate in Los Angeles at some point in the future, according to the foreign ministry.

Closure of the Consulate-General in New York is expected to be completed by January 31st, 2010. Curent plans call for the current consulate to be replaced by an honourary consulate to provide some services to Swedish citizens in the area.

International trade matters will continue to be handled in New York by the Swedish Trade Council (Exportrådet) and the Invest in Sweden Agency, with additional responsibilities falling to the embassy in Washington.

The closure of the consulate-general in Kaliningrad is set to be completed by October 31st or this year, with the consulate-general in Guangzhou is set to be closed a month later.

The ministry expects the closure of the embassy in Colombo to be completed by March 31st, 2010.

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