Despite the sovereign debt crisis gripping the European Union, Swedish ambassador Jonas Hafstrom hailed the body as a success story.
In a wide-ranging speech at the Metro Atlanta Chamber on Jan. 25, Mr. Hafstrom noted that the union has grown from eight to 27 members with more countries such as Iceland, Turkey and Serbia trying to join.
Many countries in southern Europe, including Italy, Spain and most notably Greece, are dealing with massive debts that threaten the region’s economic stability. In contrast, the ambassador pointed out that many northern countries have stable economies.
Sweden has stayed strong throughout the doldrums of the past few years, in part thanks to reforms following a housing bubble and financial crisis two decades ago.
“We had our crisis in the 1990s and that was a tough lesson learned,” he said, noting that the country now has a low deficit and unemployment rate and has lowered taxes this year while maintaining strong social programs.
“I love telling my Democratic and Republican friends, we are keeping our social welfare programs in good shape,” Mr. Hafstrom said lightheartedly.
Speaking with GlobalAtlanta after his address, he noted that Sweden is not completely safe from Europe’s financial woes. The export-oriented country could face slower demand from struggling trading partners.
He added that with the Great Depression in the 1920s and ‘30s, countries isolated themselves economically and made the situation worse. Protectionism would have the same effect in today’s climate. “We’re all in the same boat,” he said.
Mr. Hafstrom, who has been ambassador to the U.S. since 2007, also underscored the important relationship between the U.S. and his home country.
“I’ve been fortunate because the bilateral relations between our two countries are absolutely splendid,” he said during his address, referencing cooperation in trade, development aid and foreign relations.
The U.S. is one of Sweden’s main trading partners, behind Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom.
Georgia is also home to 47 Swedish affiliates employing 7,773 people in the state. Mobile phone manufacturer Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB – a joint venture between Sweden’s Ericsson and Japanese electronics giant Sony Corp. – moved its Americas headquarters to Atlanta in 2010.
Further developing Swedish relations with Atlanta, the ambassador met with Gov. Nathan Deal and Mayor Kasim Reed during his visit.
Mr. Hafstrom told GlobalAtlanta that he and the mayor discussed clean, eco-friendly technology and how Sweden has kept carbon-dioxide emissions low while maintaining a strong economy.
Sweden is a world leader in clean technology and has shared its ideas with Georgia in the past. A delegation from Boras, Sweden, visited Savannah in 2010 to showcase methods for turning waste into energy.
For more information on Swedish initiatives in Georgia or the Southeast, visit the chamber’s website at www.sacc-georgia.org.
To learn more about the activities of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, go to www.metroatlantachamber.com