Central European Time Zone UTC+01:00
Capital City Stockholm
Currency Swedish krona
National Day 6 June
Sweden’s new Ambassador His Excellency Mr Torbjörn Sohlström arrived in London in September of last year. His wife and their sons joined him in January. He says he thoroughly enjoys living in the heart of the UK’s capital. “There is so much to discover and I have only just started. There is definitely some truth in Samuel Johnson’s observation: ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’”
Brought up in Stockholm, a world map that hung in the kitchen of his childhood home peaked an early interest in foreign affairs. Mr Sohlström initially studied to become a journalist, working at National TV News and Dagens Nyheter newspaper, but the work urged him to learn more about “the world beyond Sweden” and pursue a career in the Foreign Service. Shortly after joining the Ministry in 2000, he left to work for the EU at the EU Council Secretariat in Brussels, followed by EU postings in Skopje and Pristina, including working as Personal Representative of Javier Solana.
He then returned to Swedish service and a posting as Deputy Head of Mission in Russia, and positions back home as Deputy Director General and Head of Minister’s Office, followed by Director General for Political Affairs until 2015. “I have served both in the Swedish national foreign service and the common European Union foreign service. As a Swede and a European, I have been equally proud to serve my country and the collective European effort.” Enthusing about his rich and varied career experiences, he says: “Before coming to London, I have lived in Brussels, in various places in the Balkans, in Moscow and – of course – for most of my life, in Stockholm.”
Now in the UK, Mr Sohlström says “My role here as Swedish Ambassador is to do whatever I can to protect and promote Swedish interests, and a continued close relationship with the United Kingdom.” He continues: “The UK is one of the countries that are closest to us in political terms. It is a key trading partner. It is home to a significant number of Swedes, and Swedish companies, many of which have been successful here and regard this country as their second home.”
The UK’s referendum result and impending Brexit presents certain challenges to these Swedes and Swedish companies. “These are obviously special times,” Mr Sohlström says. “The United Kingdom has decided to leave the European Union. We regret this decision, but will now engage together with the other Member States, and the EU institutions, in negotiations to shape this departure in the best possible way.” He continues: “I believe it is important that EU countries and the UK continue to work together very closely for so many reasons.”
His time in London so far has made him realise how many elements bind Sweden and the UK together. “Be it the love of Swedes for everything British, in particular football, or the parts of Swedish life – in terms of furniture, fashion or fika – that we are able to bring to the UK. And how detrimental it would be if we introduced unnecessary friction into this relationship.”
But Mr Sohlström is clear that the need to work together is not limited to bilateral links: “it is equally important, if not more so, when it comes to how we relate to other parts of the world. Throughout my life, and my career, I have seen what good Europe can achieve when it works together as one, and the price we all have to pay for failure when it does not.”
Clearly passionate about the European project, the Ambassador arrived in the UK at a time of upheaval, but no doubt he will rise to the challenge. When not working, together with his family Mr Sohlström has been exploring various parts of the UK. “To relax, we go for walks in the countryside. And, like many of my compatriots, I enjoy a game of football with a beer or two at the pub.”
Former Diplomatic Editor at The Times, Michael Binyon, explains how the tightening of border controls and the growing nationalist mood in Europe are threatening the future of Schengen.