Growing up in a diplomatic family, politics was always part of the dinner table conversation at home for Lennart Linnér, the new Swedish Ambassador to Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Laos. Not long after his previous posting in Indonesia and East Timor he now has to face some critical issues like the serious developments in Burma, Thailand buying the Gripen multi-role fighter jet from Sweden or Sweden’s phasing out of development assistance to Laos. Despite this he has committed to give his best during his years as his Governments representative.
For H.E. Mr. Lennart Linnér there are two main responsibilities as the Swedish Ambassador to the countries he is accredited to ; one is to represent the Swedish Government in in these countries explaining Swedish Governments policies as well as what Sweden stands for in a broader sense. The second one is to report to his own government what is happening in Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia.
“We try to give the Swedish Government our best assessment of the political, economic or social developments in these countries, explains Lennart Linnér.
Taking care of Swedish interests in the region is another important task according to Linnér.
“We are expecting over 400 000 Swedes to visit Thailand this year and statistically that means some of them will need assistance from the Embassy, weather in connection with an accident, somebody falling sick, or someone losing their passport, just to mention some examples. In this regard the Embassy does play an important role. Likewise we assist Thai people with visas when they need to enter Sweden.”
“Last but not least I would like to point out that we are also here to promote Swedish business interests. We assist Swedish companies whenever they may face obstacles or problem of one kind or the other.” he concludes.
Joint Plan of Action
Thailand and Sweden signed an overall framework for closer cooperation between ther two countries, the Joint Plan of Action (JPLA), in the beginning of 2006. The aim is to enhance cooperation in a wide range of aspects such as trade and investment, education and human resource development, tourism etc.
Water Research is just the latest example of cooperation between the two countries. On the 31st October 2007 a ceremony was held signifying forthcoming collaboration between the Royal Thai Government’s Hydro Agro Informatics Institute (HAII), and the Network for Integrated Trans-boundary Water Research (NITWAR), an international network hosted by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU).
“This signifies the increasing national and international realization of the importance of collaborative and partnership-based processes for water research and management,” explains Lennart Linnér.
The talk of the town right now is the Royal Thai Governments decision on October 16 to opt for the Swedish Gripen jet fighters to replace the Royal Thai Air Force’ aging US F-5 B/E aircraft. But in fact it concerns more than only aircraft, according to Ambassador Linnér.
“We, from the Swedish Government side, firmly believe that we are offering Thailand a world class Air defense system with several important components at a very competitive price. Furthermore the long evaluation process has been done in a transparent way, and I think it proves that there is a very high level of trust between our two countries. Our relations with Thailand go a long way back, several hundred years in fact. Today they are expanding rapidly and I consider it a privilege to have been given a role in promoting our ties even further during the coming years,” he says with pride.
New directions in Sweden’s development assistance
In August of this year the Swedish parliament decided to scale down the number of countries it helps with foreign aid. The aim is to have its development assistance more closely tied to the promotion of democracy and human rights in recipient countries. The numbers of recipient countries are cut in half, from 70 to 33. The total amount of money spent will remain the same however.
“This year Sweden is spending nearly 16 thousand million kronor, almost US$ 2300 million, to help finance development projects in scores of countries around the world,” says Lennart Linnér.
“It is only fair to reduce or abolish development assistance to a country like China with its very impressive economic growth, and to contribute more to African countries like Liberia or Sierra Leone who’ve gone through bloody conflicts. The fight against global poverty will also be given priority for more assistance from Sweden.”
Countries including Laos, Vietnam and the Philippines will also see aid from Sweden being phased out over the coming years but Sweden will of course continue to have relations with countries in which development projects are phased out.
According to the Swedish Government, a more focused approach makes for more effective development assistance and a better international distribution of labor.
“We are not simply cutting out beneficiary countries but are looking into how we can be more focused and have better results in the countries we stay in.” he emphasized.
Balancing his professional and private life
Lennart is staying at the residence in Bangkok with his wife Marie and their two beautiful daughters Emma and Julia who are already enjoying life in Thailand.
“My eldest daughter told me the other day that she couldn’t wait to get back to school on Monday. It is certainly not everyday you hear this from your children. She said she likes her teachers, making friends and blending in, and I am very happy for her,” he says.
As for Lennart he tries to spend time with his family whenever he has free time.
“It is hard already to be away from family and friends back in Sweden so I try to have equal time between work and family here in Thailand. It is not an easy thing to achieve, but I am trying my best since I do regard the family as the most important thing in life and feeling blessed to have such a wonderful one.”