H.E. Fredrik Jörgensen

“A rapidly changing political landscape requires the development of new strategies”

H.E. Fredrik Jörgensen, Ambassador of Sweden

Text: Martina Hošková and M. Zisso; Photo: archive

“The Czech Republic did exemplary work in tackling the multiple crises in Europe during its EU presidency. Now Sweden has taken over the torch”, says H.E. Mr. Fredrik Jörgensen, Ambassador of Sweden, and continues: “Both countries are big enough to make a difference, but small enough to realise the need for international cooperation and partnerships. In the Czech Republic, we see an important partner. We are already very close, but we would like to nurture our cooperation even more.”

How do you see your mission as a diplomat?

It is truly a great honour, and a joy, to represent Sweden in this beautiful – and, for us Swedes, so important – country.

When I first started in this business, many years ago, I acted on my wish to work abroad, to broaden my horizons. In those days, the best way to get a chance to see the world was to join the foreign service. At least, I thought so. Now this has changed, with globalization and increased trade. For young people today, there is an abundance of opportunities.

But I have never regretted my choice to become a civil servant, to work for the Government. This I do with great pride. I have been around for so long that my CV has become quite extensive. In my career, I have seen up-close the fall of the Berlin Wall, and how democracy succeeded apartheid in South Africa. I also had the privilege of working in Italy during an exciting period. Before coming to Prague, I had the honour of representing my government in our brother country Denmark. In between, I have dealt with security policy and European issues, as well as legal and consular affairs. At my latest posting in Stockholm, I was director general at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

You arrived in Prague three years ago. What has your experience been so far?

When the opportunity presented itself, it was an easy decision for me to put the Czech Republic at the top of my wish list. This country, in the middle of Europe, has always attracted me. Sweden and the Czech Republic also have deep and close contacts, which can be further improved. The Czech Republic is becoming an increasingly important partner for us.

I came here in the fall of 2020, and I remember how happy I was that the Czech Republic was one of the few countries that actually had success in combatting the Coronavirus. During the summer of that year, that over-optimistic (as it turned out) party on the Charles Bridge had been held, celebrating that life would soon return to normal. But it didn’t really work out that way. Pretty soon after my arrival, the country was shut down as the virus came to life in earnest. Therefore, my first year here came to be characterized by in-house work and an almost endless series of video conferences.

It is so nice to now be able to work for real, because what we actually do, at all embassies, is to ensure that people meet – and preferably in real life, of course. There are so many contacts between Sweden and the Czech Republic, and I am glad that I can now focus on my actual mission. I divide my time between cultural and social issues, trade promotion, and, of course, politics and EU affairs. At this time, when the political landscape in the Czech Republic is changing, it is a privilege to be able to follow developments on the ground.

What I see now is a country where people are open, interested, and curious. And quite often with very positive sentiments towards Sweden. I find great joy in getting to know this country more in depth. As often as I can, I try to leave the desk at the office and explore the country together with my wife and our son. We really enjoy the beauty of the landscape and the friendliness of the people.

Right now, Sweden hopes to become a member of NATO after many years of neutral country status. How did this shift in policy come about?

It is easy to note that the Czech Republic has had a difficult journey through history: challenged by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and, as a part of Czechoslovakia, suffering under the Nazi-occupation and the period under communist rule, after the coup in 1948. Only after the Velvet Revolution was it possible to re-join the family of European nations, as a strong and independent state.

Sweden’s journey, in many ways, has been easier. We have never had foreign troops on the streets of our capital (If we exclude our rivalry with Denmark several hundred years ago). In the 17th century, Sweden flourished and became a European power to be reckoned with. And, as you know, we also made quite an impression in Prague, Brno, and Olomouc. I hope that you have forgiven us.

Our modern history was much less dramatic than that of the Czech Republic. We managed to stay out of both world wars, and during the Cold War we trusted a security policy that was often described as a “policy of neutrality”. In the event of a new conflict in Europe, it was our ambition to stay out of it.

But, this brief description was in fact a bit of a misconception. In fact, since the Second World War, Sweden has never been “neutral” in the formal sense. Militarily non-aligned, yes, but our security policy after WWII has always rested on extensive cooperation with others: with NATO and with bilateral partners.

The illegal Russian attack on Ukraine made it necessary for us to rethink, to some extent. Or rather to develop our policies further. An effective European response to the aggression that we are now witnessing requires even closer cooperation, and for Sweden, together with Finland, NATO membership was seen as a very logical step, bolstering both our national security and that of Europe. We will be entering NATO with the explicit ambition to be an active member, contributing to European security. Yes, two NATO members have not yet approved our application for membership, but I am convinced this is only a matter of time. We have now done our homework and are ready for membership. This is also acknowledged by NATO as an organisation. Our Finnish friends are also very clearly stating that their membership is complete only when Sweden is at their side, on the inside, as a new member of the alliance.

Sweden has taken over the Presidency of the EU after the Czech Republic. As a representative of your country, what do you expect?

In regards to our EU policies, it could perhaps be said that Sweden and the Czech Republic initially looked at the EU from slightly different angles. There was, for many years, a slight reluctance in the Czech Republic, based, I think, on the country’s historic experience. Of course, the Czechs did not want to be dominated by foreign powers again. Also, not by “Brussels”. Sweden was also a bit careful when approaching the EU membership – since we had, for very long, done rather well on the outside. In fact, Sweden also became a member of the EU rather late, in 1995.

But today, our EU policies are very similar, and the Czech Republic is an increasingly important partner for us. Both our countries are trying to figure out how best to promote our interests in a rapidly changing political landscape. We are both very preoccupied with our relations with the Chinese, the Russians, and the Americans. We are both strong advocates for human rights, the rule of law, and the efficient use of the Union’s spendings. When we look at the European cooperation today, an important point of departure, for both our countries, is our relative size. We are medium-sized (not small!) European countries, heavily depending on export. Therefore, the internal market and questions about market access are crucial to us.

With the Czech presidency of the Council of the European Union, we also saw a clear and very positive development in the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic did exemplary work in tackling the multiple crises in Europe – first the pandemic and lockdowns, then the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, and the following energy crisis and inflation. Now, Sweden has taken over, with respect and humility in the face of all of these difficulties – but also with great determination.

Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of a peaceful neighbour has robbed millions of Ukrainians of their freedom. Ukraine is fighting for its survival as a nation – and for the security and lives of its citizens. We are all suffering due to the war, but it is Ukraine that is paying the highest price. And remember, Ukrainian soldiers are fighting not only for their own freedom, but for the freedom of all of Europe. I would again like to commend the Czech Republic for the way they coordinated the European response to the Russian aggression.

The EU and its member states have rallied unprecedented support for Ukraine, and will remain firmly by its side. This will be the most important challenge during our Presidency, to maintain unity in that support.

The other priorities for our Presidency – the EU’s economic competitiveness, the green transition, and the rule of law – were also important dossiers during the Czech Presidency. We have simply taken over the torch from the Czech Republic.

H.E. Fredrik Jörgensen, Ambassador of Sweden

How do you promote your country here in the Czech Republic?

As I said, we have very close cooperation in our official relations, on the state level. But even more, I would like to emphasize the strong bond that exists between our peoples, and between us as individual human beings. This is perhaps my most important observation after having worked here for almost three years: Swedes and Czechs have a lot in common in their daily lives. Even if we come from different parts of the continent, with different experiences, we very much tend to have the same outlook on life.

Our love for nature, as well as our passion for ice hockey, tennis, and “mushrooming”, means something. So does our longing for the uncomplicated life in our summer houses.

We appreciate the simple things in life. Swedes, in general, would like to see themselves as modest people, haha. Czechs and Swedes are perhaps not extremely extroverted, but rather a little reserved and cautious, I would say. But when we create friendships, we often look for long-term companionship.

This common perspective is a great asset in the work of the Embassy, in promoting Sweden. Many Czechs have a great interest in Swedish culture; so many doors are opened for us. We are very active in visiting book fairs and exhibitions, for example. Literature is an important area for cooperation.

Are Czechs and Swedish also good at doing business with each other?

An important aspect, when describing how we look at ourselves and at the world, is the word ‘partnership’. When describing Swedish industry and production, we have gone from the classic “Made in Sweden” to “Made by Sweden”. Nowadays, we often say “Made with Sweden”, underlining even more how dependent we are on partnerships, on cooperation with others.

In the Czech Republic we see a potential strong partner. We are already very close, but we would like to nurture our cooperation even more. Again, our relative size matters here. Both countries are big enough to make a difference, but small enough to realise the need for international cooperation and partnerships.

A key word in the Embassy’s work is “benchmarking”. Quite often, we compare notes with our Czech friends, to learn from each other’s experiences. The best example is maybe what we have called “The Czech- Swedish Healthcare Innovation Platform”. Over the years, we have had an extensive exchange on topics such as vaccination strategies, coronary diseases, leukemia, and different forms of cancer treatment.

Swedish and Czech trade relations have historically strong ties, mainly rooted in similar base industries. Swedes and Czechs can (in simplified terms) often be seen as inventors and engineers, rather than (perhaps) natural trade people – like, for instance, the Danes or the Dutch.

What makes the industry ties a bit special is the overwhelming Swedish presence in the Czech Republic, with approx. 190 established subsidiaries, employing around 30,000 people. These investments cover the whole industry spectrum – Automotive, retail, construction, real estate, MedTech, general production and engineering, shared services, ICT, etc. We would like to see more Czech direct investments in Sweden, but I think this is coming.

Sweden is here, and we are here to stay, as a reliable partner. This time we come in peace, and we are open for business.