The Diplomatic Dispatch

The British Ambassador to Sweden blogs on The Local

Archive for January, 2011

Reaching the summit

Monday, January 24th, 2011

And so… the first ever UK Nordic Baltic Summit duly took place – without the intervention of Vikings and longboats, as my previous blogs predicted – on 20 January at the Whitechapel Gallery in East London.  The Prime Ministers of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Finland , Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania travelled to UK with delegations of around a dozen business leaders, civil society and government representatives to pool their best and brightest ideas under three policy themes:  technology and innovation, jobs, family and gender equality, and the green economy/sustainable business.

The morning’s business at the Whitechapel Gallery consisted of 45 presentations grouped into three sessions, one on each policy theme, with five breakout groups running simultaneously each time. Each theme had a Chair and the Prime Ministers spread across the breakout groups and joined the other participants in listening to the presenters and joining in lively discussions afterwards. After lunch the Plenary session was opened to around 100 media representatives from across the region and David Cameron asked each Chair in turn to report back on the morning sessions and to moderate comments from presenters and PMs.

And this did indeed prove to be an exercise in Asummitry, innovative, sparky and thought-provoking.  The concept of wellbeing worked its way through the themes of the conference, as did ideas that focussed on how to build strong family and social structures and promote innovation and entrepreneurship.   There was also a strong interest in the idea that the UK, Nordic and Baltic countries could become an avant-garde for delivering jobs and growth and the potential for the North and Baltic Sea countries to become the world’s leading green region.

Of course a good part of the value of this kind of event is in what it delivers by way of follow up, but the networks and energy created in London will be a great platform.  Meantime, do have a look at the presentations to the Summit.

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Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Those of you that saw my blog from Monday will know that David Cameron will today shake hands with the Prime Ministers and Presidents of the eight Nordic and Baltic countries at the front door of No10 Downing Street at the beginning of the UK Nordic Baltic Summit.  As I said in that blog, this is no ordinary summit but rather an exercise in alternative summitry.  Or asummitry, to coin a term.  It will be a fascinating couple of days.

The brakes are released today when Lord Green hosts a trade conference in London with leading business figures from across the Nordic and Baltic nations. The conference aims to put a further burst of energy into trade and investment among the nine countries, especially in the areas of low carbon and technology and innovation.

But this is an exercise that builds on a recent track record of considerable achievement.  The Nordic and Baltic countries are key partners in trade and inward investment – two-way trade in goods and services is worth over £50bn a year, a figure that roughly equates to the value of our trade with France.  Last year saw a 13% rise in foreign direct investment in the UK from the Nordic markets.  We also share an ambitious approach to building out the low-carbon economy and taking advantage of moving early into green goods and services to ensure that we both lead the push for a sustainable global economy and put our businesses in the box seat to capitalise on this new economy as it rolls out across the world. Today’s event in London is also an opportunity to remind our trade and investment partners in the Nordic and Baltic region that the UK is the number one location in Europe for inward investment and the number one location to do business.  And in low carbon energy we are probably the most ambitious nation in Europe.

OK, so that’s a big claim to make.  But we have reason to make it.  The UK has the largest offshore wind market in the world, with the potential to account for 32GW of electricity generation by 2020 – enough to supply 25% of the UK’s energy needs. This creates huge inward investment opportunities. We have a highly skilled workforce with experience in working offshore, world-leading testing infrastructure under construction in the north east of England, and strong companies already active in the sector: both home-grown such as JDR Cables, and inward investors such as Dong, Vestas, Vattenfall, Statoil – companies from – you guessed it – the Nordic and Baltic region. And to encourage manufacturing companies to set up here the Government has announced up to £60m to support the establishment of offshore wind manufacturing at ports sites in England while the Scottish Government is providing a further £70m for port infrastructure in Scottish ports.

So we’ve a lot of work to do together.  Asummitrically, too.

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Move over, Hagar the Horrible

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Those of you that are avid readers of the FT may have spotted James Crabtree’s piece today announcing a forthcoming “Viking invasion” of Downing Street.  Before anyone gets too many ideas, I have it on good advice that the Swedish Prime Minister will not be turning up in a longboat.  But turning up he will be, alongside a rather more post-modern cast of movers and shakers from the eight Nordic and Baltic countries.  The only things that will be stormed will be brains.

Some stereotypes may however prove helpful.  This is a very different kind of event and the idealised Nordic informality is hard-wired into both the format and the intent of the meeting.  I can’t myself think of anything else like it.  The five Nordic heads of state and government will be joined by David Cameron and their three Baltic counterparts but also by an array of businesspeople, policy-thinkers, entrepreneurs and social innovators for a day of interactive discussion.

The format will be more Californian than Baltic, with rapid-fire parallel presentations in adjoining rooms and the participants will move backwards and forwards around the event contributing ideas, listening to feedback and helping shape thinking.  The aim is to proliferate great ideas for promoting not just GDP but also General Wellbeing.  And unlike most diplomatic encounters, the ideas and the networks – rather than a tortuous communiqué drafted by wonks like me – will be the outcome.  In any event it’s something new, ambitious and creative.  And something, I suspect, that may grow legs of its own, get up and walk.

The Swedes are better known today for social entrepreneurship than coastal raiding, looting and pillaging.  Move over, Hägar the Horrible.

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