The Diplomatic Dispatch

The British Ambassador to Sweden blogs on The Local

Archive for April, 2012

100 Reasons to visit the UK

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

It’s an easy blog to write this time, because, in the words of the song you say it best when you say nothing at all.

Which is another way of saying that this list of reasons to visit the UK in 2012 is more eloquent and complete than even I could be!

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What the world needs now is…Life Scientists?

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

This week I have asked our Regional Science and Innovation Manager, Hazel Gibson,  to guest blog a roundup of Swedish science developments presented by the Swedish Royal Academy of Engineering (IVA) at their annual briefing meeting:

Did you know that 90% of all scientists who have ever lived are alive and active today and that in the last 18 months more scientific data has been generated than ever before in history?  Astonishing, eh?  The main “take home” message from the recent IVA meeting was that currently Life Sciences are experiencing a welcome paradigm shift.  This is not just in terms of Life Sciences’ ability to provide better medical applications for humans but also in understanding the fundamental building blocks of all life on the planet essential for sustainable development and survival.

As if to underline the message about the importance of Life Sciences there was a welcome recent development in the UK – the long awaited opening of the UK Biobank. 500,000 human samples are now available to international researchers to access.  Sweden, the UK and the other Nordic countries have great developments in biobanking across the medical and environmental areas, and these facilities can be used in a variety of applications.  The NKS development and other facilities around Sweden will be key focal points for Sweden in the future.

So why is it important to understand life better?

Biologists are sometimes seen as little brothers to Physicists or Chemists but the reality is that increased knowledge in all disciplines can only benefit everyone.  The more we understand life, the more we are able to work with nature’s expertly designed systems instead of cutting across them.  Personalised medicine, algal biofuels, or organic plastics are all examples of such developments.  Two Swedish examples at the seminar were the identification of bacteria for artificial photosynthesis and yeasts which will be used in the production of diesel fuels.

The reality is that we will need all of science to make a contribution to a more sustainable world where people are living longer, whether this be through more accurate instrumentation, a better understanding of materials or chemicals, or indeed a more fine-tuned understanding of proteins and cells and how they behave.  Scientists truly deserve recognition for the way they are working, often quietly and diligently to this purpose.

So science can help us but it needs to work in tandem with politicians and civil society to come up with solutions.  We could all learn from the way that Swedish civil society truly engages in science, including that much appreciated briefing from IVA.  I can hardly wait until next year!

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Human rights in Europe and beyond need to be protected

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

In a month’s time the governments of the 47 members of the Council of Europe will try to agree reforms that are meant to strengthen the protection of human rights of the 800 million people living in those 47 member states.

The Council of Europe and its key institutions and tools – the European Court of Human Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights – have defended human rights and fundamental freedoms for over 60 years. They have helped to promote the rule of law in Europe, and transform the lives of many Europeans.  But the work is far from completed.

The UK was one of the original architects of the European Convention of Human Rights and is currently the Chair of the Council of Europe. We strongly believe in the role and values of the Council but do not think the institutions of the Council are strong enough to carry out their important responsibility.

The key challenge is the huge backlog of cases in the Court in Strasbourg. This now stands at over 150,000 with an average delay of 5 years. This means that significant, urgent cases – for example, those involving individuals subject to unfair trial or denied free speech – will continue to be delayed. The Court itself has started to reduce the backlog, but even with the proposed reforms, the Court would still have too many cases to process. The best way to fix this problem is to ensure that the Member States pull their weight.

So we propose that governments do more to implement the Convention themselves, at home, through introducing national human rights institutions, domestic legislation enshrining the Convention, and better human rights training for civil servants and judges. This would reduce pressure on the Court, as more cases would be dealt with at the national level.

One of reforms the UK is therefore proposing is the ability for the Court to say no to cases which have already been fairly decided by national courts in accordance with the Convention.

This would not reduce the right of individuals to apply to have their case heard in Strasbourg.  The Court would continue to decide these cases, and all Member States would continue to be held accountable.  This would give the Court a vital extra tool with which to focus its caseload on the most serious abuses.

We believe there is now momentum for reform. Sweden is an important and valued partner in this work.

The Court has already begun this work and our proposals build on the reform programme agreed by all 47 members in recent years. Transforming the Court to a modern and effective institution will not be an easy job but is necessary and urgent to ensure Europe continues to be active and effective in seeking to prevent human rights abuse.

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