Tea with the Ambassador: Sweden

Swedish Ambassador to France and Monaco, Veronika Wand-Danielsson
Swedish Ambassador to France and Monaco, Veronika Wand-Danielsson

I have a strong affiliation to Sweden and Swedes, due to my swimrun hobby. The sport was born in the Stockholm archipelago and, as I’m Editor of the ÖTILLÖ Swimrun Life Magazine, anytime there’s a race, I’m there with the Swedish crew, competing and writing. Hence the copycat truck attack in Stockholm on Friday, April 7, hit close to home for many of my friends, but I am relieved to report that they are “dazed but defiant”, like in Nice … and Berlin and London.

Only last week, I had tea at the Hermitage with Swedish Ambassador to France and Monaco, Veronika Wand-Danielsson, who was in town to attend the Swedish Bar Association’s Annual Gala, held this year at the Monaco Yacht Club. The subject of immigration and Sweden was discussed, off the record, over many sips.

The Ambassador, a remarkable individual in terms of diplomatic experience and sheer intellect, knows what she’s talking about. The daughter of a diplomat, her father was a German diplomat who started his career in Stockholm. In 1958, he met her mother, who spoke German and that brought them together. They fell madly in love and the following year the future Swedish Ambassador to France and Monaco was born, followed by four sisters.

“My father specialised in Africa. My first six years I was brought up in Nigeria before the Biafra War. We went back to West Germany where I started school, so I was basically brought up with two cultures, German and Swedish.”

The Wand family returned to French-speaking Africa, living in Benin for 5 years, and Ambassador Wand-Danielsson attended French school from ages 11 to 16, where she met her first love, and became francophone. In addition to speaking German and Swedish at home, she was speaking French with her boyfriend. “Then my father was posted to Norway, which was like going from the sun to the moon. I’d become quite French, living in the sun but now moving to a skiing crazy country, with cold and long winters. However, I realised that I was quite adaptable. Norwegian and Swedish aren’t that dissimilar and by then I spoke four languages fluently, so it was easier to learn a fifth language.”

Her parents moved back to Africa but Ambassador Wand-Danielsson took a Norwegian baccalaureate and then moved to Sweden to study political science at Uppsala University. “As I was half Swedish, half German, and loved being in Africa and, I thought, why not the UN as a future career possibility?”

In 1984, in the last year of undergraduate studies, she visited her parents in Angola, where she met Christian, a young Swedish diplomat who was to eventually become her husband. “Even though I’d told my mother that I would never marry a Swede – ‘too boring’ – I had to go to Angola to meet him. I was, however, planning to go to Science Po in Paris so I told Christian, that I first had to do my Masters”. He managed to get a posting to Paris, so they married, she went to Science Po and they had two children very quickly, both born in Paris. As the only married student in class, the Ambassador finished her studies and a year later got a job with the OECD, Development Centre for one year before getting pregnant with her second child.

In 1987, the couple and their two children moved back to Stockholm, and although she had the possibility to have German and Swedish nationality, like her sisters, Ambassador Wand-Danielsson in fact only had a German passport, and so applied for the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She was recruited to the UN department in the Ministry working with drug control issues and with gender issues, responsible for Sweden’s cooperation with UNDCP and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

“In 1995,” Veronika Wand-Danielsson explained, “Sweden joined the EU, and I was seconded to the European Commission in Brussels.”

The family stayed in Brussels for far more years than neither she nor her husband Christian Danielsson had planned for. “When, in 1999, we asked to be posted to a new country, and were considering moving on to Africa with our children, Stockholm said ‘no’, we were both needed in Brussels, as Sweden was preparing for its first EU-presidency in 2001. My husband became chairman for the working group on enlargement of the 12 new EU countries, and, I became the chairperson for the Balkans working group, handling the follow-up to the war in Kosovo and the crises in Macedonia”.

In 2003 Mrs Wand-Danielsson was promoted and became Minister at the Swedish Representation to the EU in Brussels, now responsible for negotiating on behalf of the Swedish government, and Sweden’s contribution to the EU-budget. Sweden, as a net-contributor to the EU’s budget, was prepared for a tough negotiation to keep the costs down, she said.

Negotiating EU budget & the Lisbon Treaty
“Although I thought it might be boring after having worked within international development matters and then security related issues in the Balkans, it was quite actually quite fascinating to negotiate the EU budget, to get a thorough understanding of where the money goes, and how efficient the budget is- or is not, and to actually understand all the areas of EU-cooperation,” the Ambassador explained.

Sweden joined the EU “knowing that we would be a net-contributor to the EU-budget, but also that our membership in the EU is indeed in our overall national interest”, said the Ambassador, explaining that it among other things gives the country access to a larger market, allows us to participate in shaping EU-regulations that affects all EU-countries; strengthens our role as EU-members on the international scene, while within the EU, it enables us to show solidarity with other countries – the southern and eastern European countries, in particular, to help them with their development. “But we need to be convinced that the money is wisely spent,” she added. “This includes certain key areas we try to reform, such as agricultural policy and/or the regional funds.”

Ambassador Wand-Danielsson commented that after those two years she saw clear needs for reforming certain aspects of the EU budget. “There were areas where there was very little EU- added value, while others, like the Erasmus programme, or support to European Research and Development programmes, make a lot of sense.”

Then just when she thought, again, that she could leave Brussels after nearly 10 years, along came the Lisbon Treaty. When France and Netherlands voted ‘no’, the treaty had to be renegotiated, and the Ambassador became responsible at the Swedish EU-Representation also for this negotiation.

“I’m a good negotiator in international relations, and like getting a good deal and finding compromises. Of course, as a Swedish representative, I act on the instructions from the Swedish government. For the Lisbon treaty, the basics were there but a new framework was needed to get France and the Netherlands to accept, while not losing the other EU-members. By the time all this was over, in 2007, our 2 children Alexandra and Christoffer, were leaving school and home; they had become Belgians and were very EU-minded. My husband had meanwhile joined the European Commission Directorate for Enlargement.”

The Ambassador agreed that the image of the EU is that it’s a big bureaucracy, with “overpaid fonctionnaires” but pointed out that in fact it’s quite a small administration, with some 29,000 people– working in support of 28 EU-member states and some 500 million people.

“Yes, the EU does make mistakes, it can be very bureaucratic, and it can probably do less and better. In the EU we sit around the negotiation table, 28 countries, each country, who try to achieve a consensus on many key issues and proposals. Most times the Commission will propose a text, and if one country says it has a key problem with a certain phrase, a certain line, or a concrete proposal, there will be discussions. Sometimes, the country in question, might actually have a point about something that the others hadn’t thought about. Although the tendency is to want a quick reaction, a quick decision, sometimes quick is not necessarily good. If you start deciding over the heads of countries then you risk losing their support. We need strong EU- institutions to represent all of our interests and it’s always important to take your time to dialogue and to negotiate.”

From NATO to an Ambassadorship
In 2007, the Ministry asked Ambassador Wand-Danielsson to become Sweden’s ambassador to NATO. “ I had been working with the Balkans but mainly with soft security issues. NATO was hard security.”

Sweden is not a member of NATO, but we are a strong partner-country to NATO and a member of the Euro-Atlantic Cooperation Council, the EAPC, including 22 partners and 28 NATO allied-countries. Sweden’s focus in relation to NATO was on crisis management operations. Sweden has supported all NATO-led missions, from Bosnia, Kosovo, to Afghanistan and Libya. We had a Swedish delegation at the NATO headquarters, comprised of civil and military personal .

In fact, the functioning of all Armed Forces of all European countries, regardless of NATO membership, is to a large extent dependent on NATO-cooperation. NATO sets, for example, the standard for military equipment such as air refuelling. “In the case of a crisis, it is essential that all military can  work together and understand each other and be interoperable on a technical, military and preferable also on a political level. Working closely with the Alliance remains a high priority for Sweden, still today”.

Despite her international upbringing, the Ambassador came to NATO with “certain prejudices and a lack of knowledge”. But she was ready to take on the challenge and to learn. “I had management skills, but I was indeed unfamiliar with the military side. I also came as a women to a very masculine world.” She described the two sides in NATO – military and political. “The military give advice to the political side, and vice versa. The military are very task oriented, which I quite like. Give them a problem, and they will try to solve it. They know what they can do, and they do that very well. But they also know what they can’t do, they don’t pretend. Politicians, diplomats pretend we know it all.”

My time at NATO was most interesting. I could clearly use many of my previous skills, from my drugs control cooperation working on Afghanistan earlier in my career, to my gender-and thorough EU-knowledge”. As Steve Jobs said, ‘we have to connect the dots’. When I first came to NATO, I had a certain prejudices, but it was in fact easier to work with the military than I had expected, they respect the hierarchy, and they recognise what they know and do now need to know. It was my role as ambassador to provide the political and holistic view to ongoing matters”. 

Assigned for three years to NATO, the Ambassador stayed 7 years from 2007 to 2014. “I enjoyed it a lot, both the issues and the working environment, travelling each year to Afghanistan to visit our Swedish troops stationed in Kabul and in the Balkh province”.

On Monaco
“I presented my credentials here in Monaco as the second Ambassador of Sweden to Monaco in February 2015. I decided that during my time as ambassador to Monaco, I wanted to raise stronger awareness and interest for Monaco in Sweden and for Sweden in Monaco. We are presently, together with the Monegasque authorities preparing a major event focusing on the “ocean and the environment” as a key issue of common interest. Sweden became a member in the UN Security Council on January 1st,2017, and made commitments to focus on environmental issues and saving the oceans, in support, not the least of, the Small Island Nations in the Caribbean and Pacific. For some island nations, it’s a make or break situation.”

Along with Fiji, Sweden took the initiative to hold a UN-Summit on the oceans this June in New York. Monaco has a particular interest and knowledge for instance on acidification. Then, on October 12th and 13th, Monaco will together with Sweden host a conference, focusing on the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas with Swedish and international researchers, as well as the wider public, the shipping industry, and relevant economic actors.

Talking trade
Asked about Brexit, the Ambassador said the EU can survive Brexit, but “it’s very important how the UK behaves and how we treat the UK”.

Asked about Brexit, the Ambassador explains that Sweden regrets strongly that the UK is leaving the EU. We had much in common with the UK. However, the EU can survive Brexit. It will now be very important to see how the UK reacts and we hope to find a common agreement on the exit but also on our future relations with the UK.”

Sweden, the Ambassador notes, “has strong ties with the UK – in terms of global outlook, free trade, and development – and we’re quite like minded. The UK is a key ally, as we have around 110,000 Swedes living in the UK, but we cannot have a situation where an EU country that is leaving is better off outside than inside. This would otherwise undermine the EU and EU-cooperative. The balance has to be right.”

As a medium sized EU-country, “Sweden cannot allow ourselves to be protectionist or to have a nationalistic approach. Our welfare system is dependent on a strong and open economy and therefore a strong export market.

“We don’t see the world as a big threat, but view international trade cooperation as an opportunity. We are quick to adapt, and reform is a way to keep up with changing times, including a more digital world today. Fifty percent of our GNI comes from export, of which 70% is to the EU market. And yes, TTIP, the trade agreement with the US was and remains a high priority for Sweden. Also in the future.”

Sweden exports more than €5.5 billion to France, while imports to Sweden from France come in around €5 billion, with cars, manufacturing goods and electronics. Sweden exports frozen fish, fuel, pharmaceuticals and, of course, car manufacturers, Scania – the first completely Swedish-built car – for buses and trucks, and Volvo trucks, which merged with Renault, is one of the largest employers in Lyon.

Monaco exports to Sweden almost €10 million a year and Sweden is ranked 17th in Monaco’s export market. On the other side, Sweden’s exports to Monaco, transport equipment and foodstuffs, is about €2 million.

Imports and exports between France and Sweden are “two sides of the same coin”. “Both imports and exports to France are as important to us,” Ambassador Wand-Danielsson stated. “And France has the same approach to help SMEs to grow. Stockholm is trying to help French companies to get access to the Swedish markets. While I have done road shows in France, and can see that Sweden is quite advanced in many key areas of the green economy, not the least linked to the transport sector.  

“Big companies like Volvo and Scania have done the necessary transformation to make the transport sector environmentally friendly – in Stockholm city, 85% of all local bus traffic runs on alternative energy. Scania does a lot with bio gas for busses, for example, where France, which still relies on diesel, is just starting. French legislation is catching up after COP21 so there are new market opportunities, and a change in mentalities. It has taken us 30 years to get where we are today.”

According to the Ambassador, there are 20,000 Swedes living in the South of France and 15,000 in the rest of the country, so 35,000 to 40,000 Swedes either living here or with second homes, enjoying the weather, the beautiful area and the healthy lifestyle.

“Swedes living abroad like to keep the Swedish traditions alive, sometimes too much … If people decide to live abroad one should invest in the country. I have a diplomatic background, and that was always my parents’ advice. If you live in a place, you must live like you will stay there forever, and not think, I will only be here for three years and then I will move on. Otherwise you will never anchor yourself or your kids. For example, I don’t go looking for Swedish meatballs, at least not every week at least.”

Article first published April 9, 2017.

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