We meet the Swedish ambassador to Tunisia and Libya; we also assess Syria talks in Vienna.
If it wasn’t for the driver, Sweden’s non-resident ambassador to Tunisia and Libya could easily pass as a manager of a start-up. To call 44-year-old Fredrik Florén’s ambassadorial set-up lean would be an understatement. There is no embassy, no residence, no staff and no fixed phone line; even the car he is being driven around in is a pretty humble French model.
“This is my office,” he says, laughing. “And that’s all I need,” he adds, pointing at his laptop bag. “I am not here to sit behind a desk: I am here to meet people.” Florén does have a desk in the Finnish embassy but he rarely uses it. Sweden decided to close its embassy in Tunis in 2001 for financial reasons and also because relations with Tunisia had turned frosty over human-rights concerns. For Florén, who comes to Tunis for at least one week every month, being a non-resident ambassador has its advantages. “I am quite flexible in my movements and my schedule,” he says. “There is hardly any bureaucracy or staff who need to be managed; I can really focus on meeting people while I am here. And having a regular presence in Sweden means I am in close contact with my political leadership.”
Decentralisation, judicial reform and women’s rights are at the forefront of his work in Tunisia. “We have a feminist foreign policy and are champions when it comes to the participation of women in the economy,” he says.
Despite a number of terrorist attacks in 2015, Florén still considers Tunisia a democratic success story. “Progress has been made under difficult circumstances and democratic change takes time. We want to be partners as the country consolidates its democracy.” As testimony to Sweden’s increased commitment, Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi was hosted on a state visit to Sweden in November last year. “We only ever receive two heads of state per year,” says Florén. “That shows the importance we attach to this relationship.”
Florén’s commute between Stockholm and Tunis will be coming to an end this summer.The Swedish government wants to reopen an embassy in Tunis; his low-key laptop diplomacy is coming to an end. “We are turning the page in terms of our relations in many ways and I am thrilled that I have been tasked with starting an embassy,” he says. “This is the beginning of a new chapter.”
- The embassy
The old embassy building in Tunis remains Swedish property. But Florén is now looking for a space to host the soon-to-be-reopened embassy and its staff, as well as a residence for himself, because moving into the former embassy is too expensive. It’s more likely that the Swedes will share space with their Finnish colleagues.
- The staff
The foreign ministry in Sweden helps with arrangements; in Tunis, Florén has been relying on a driver who has worked for the embassy for more than 20 years. Even with the new set-up Florén’s team will be small, probably one deputy and a few staff. He might also be joined by the Swedish Development Agency, as well as a Swedish Trade delegate.
“Diplomacy is about being present,” says Florén. “You can only do so much to bridge your absence, especially with a shifting political landscape. That’s why we had to come back.”
There will be no Syrians around the table when the International Syria Support Group meets in Vienna in January: neither the opposition nor the government are supposed to take part. But ahead of the talks, some of the disparate Syrian opposition groups are trying to put together a coherent, unified position, which they believe will help their international supporters fight their corner.
A meeting was held in Riyadh in December to try to thrash out an agreement and more talks are likely in early 2016. The lack of a united opposition has made the already tough task of finding a political solution in Syria even harder.
Goldman Sachs, the investment bank that coined the Bric acronym, closed its fund named after the group in November because it was losing too much money. But if the Bric concept is dead, no one seems to have told the countries involved: Brazil, Russia, India and China.
It has taken on a life of its own, holding annual summits and even adding another member in the form of South Africa. India assumes chairmanship of the group this February and is set to host the eighth Brics summit later this year. India also plans to host the first ever Brics trade fair, as well as a football tournament.