The Diplomatic Dispatch

The British Ambassador to Sweden blogs on The Local

Archive for September, 2011

Go West, Young Man!

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

This was the advice traditionally given to Americans in search of fame and fortune, that is that they should leave the East Coast and head into the great unexplored West of the United States.

I have little hope of fame (beyond this blog!) or fortune and am sadly no longer young, but I decided to follow the advice anyway and headed off to Gothenburg last week for my first “official” visit as Ambassador.

I come from Scotland and studied at Glasgow University. Arriving in Gothenburg and learning a bit about its history, I was struck not only by the obvious Scottish influences (Chalmers University, Keiller Park and many other Scottish street names), but also to the wider resemblances to the great Scottish West coast city.

Gothenburg, like Glasgow, had for many years a large shipbuilding industry, which has had to make big adjustments in recent years to new economic circumstances.

Like Glasgow, it has embraced culture – the world-famous book-fair was opening as I left. Locals tell me it also has Sweden’s best football team, but I’m too diplomatic to pass comment on that!

Like Glasgow it is said to have perhaps more than its fair share of rain as well as a healthy rivalry with its east coast rival, Stockholm. Again I was (for once!)  too professional to express any controversial opinions…

I greatly enjoyed visiting Stena AB, one of the biggest Swedish investors in the UK, responsible for thousands of jobs in my home country. It was also a great treat to meet a huge range of local politicians, businesspeople and journalists, as well as members of the British community.

We met at a reception in the local offices of Handelsbanken, which now has more than a hundred branches in the UK, and is opening new branches there at a rate of one very two weeks. Our host was Pär Boman, CEO of Handelsbanken and also Chair of the British-Swedish Chamber of Commerce. The BSCC is based in Stockholm, but will, we hope, be developing a presence in Gothenburg, too.

My visit was organised by Lars Wiklund, the UK’s excellent Honorary Consul in the city.  Honorary Consuls are a great diplomatic asset – they’re people who work unpaid for the UK, helping UK nationals visiting or living overseas, in this case in Gothenburg, but also strengthening the whole range of links, particularly commercial, between Sweden and the UK.  They help make my job easier – and in the case of last week’s visit – hugely entertaining and interesting.

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Three September days

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

I’m delighted to be doing my first blog as UK Ambassador to Sweden. I presented my credentials to the King on 16 September and will start now a busy programme of meeting Swedish Ministers, officials, politicians, business people (British and Swedish) and many others.

In this blog I hope to share experiences from doing this fascinating job in a wonderful country on behalf of another wonderful country, at a really interesting and challenging time.
And time is my theme today, as it were. On my morning run along Djurgårdsbrunnsviken (the stretch of water near our house), I often pause at the simple memorial there to Swedes who gave their lives in the service of peace.

This week in particular I think back to a September day 50 years ago and to Dag Hammarskjöld, who died working for peace.

But I shall also think back to another, more recent September and look forward with hope for the future.

Five years ago this month, the Heads of State and Government of the United Nations met in New York. As political counsellor at the UK Mission, I was closely involved in the Summit negotiations which led, among other things, to the adoption of the concept of the Responsibility to Protect, the notion, which would have been dear to Dag Hammarskjöld, that the international community has a responsibility to act to protect civilians at risk of genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The World Summit also agreed to establish a UN Peace-building Commission, to bring together international and regional organisations and member states to help countries emerging from conflict build security and prosperity. It was an honour to work on this with Jan Eliasson, who was then President of the UN General Assembly.

Five years on, the picture is mixed.  The Peace-building Commission has played an important role in helping countries to address the challenges of post-conflict stabilisation. Sweden and the UK have worked hand in hand on this.

But more remains to be done on post-conflict peace-building. The UK is almost doubling the share of development aid it spends in fragile states where recovering from conflict is most challenging and the risk of conflict most acute.

More difficult, but more important is getting better at pre-conflict peace-building, where the international community works with fragile states to help them avoid the slide into crisis and conflict. The UK and Sweden want to see the EU and the UN become better at this.

But when prevention and diplomacy fail, we recognise that use of force can be necessary. Thus, this September day, the UK and Sweden are partners in the international military operation to protect civilians in Libya, in support of the goals set by UN Security Council resolution 1973.

Britain appreciates the distinctive and distinguished contribution Sweden has made to the Libya mission and to international security, past, present and future.

As I run along the waterside, therefore, I’m encouraged that our work continues to be, as that eloquent memorial puts it, “I fredens tjänst” (in the service of peace).

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