Sweden's ambassador to the United States, Jonas Hafstrom, was in Pittsburgh Friday to receive an honorary degree from Chatham University as part of its Global Focus program.
Sweden has a population of 9.5 million and is the third largest country by size in the European Union. It is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy with a reputation for providing its citizens a high level of cradle-to-grave social services. It is very different from the United States, with eight political parties in its parliament, stretching from right to left. Mr. Hafstrom is a member of the Moderate Party.
Although people of Swedish origin are not especially numerous in Western Pennsylvania, more than a million migrated to the United States and today more than 4 million Americans claim Swedish origins. Sweden has had an important cultural impact on the United States and, in recent years, Americans have become familiar with the country's mystery writers and beautiful, sometimes stark scenery through author Stieg Larsson's girl with the dragon tattoo who played with fire and kicked the hornet's nest.
Mr. Hafstrom, an experienced diplomat with service in Asia and Iran, claims there are no serious problems between Sweden and the United States, although Sweden, as chairman of the eight-country Arctic Council, desires a greater level of U.S. interest in matters of the Arctic, as well as in related climate change. He noted that the subject did not come up in the presidential debate on foreign affairs between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney. Sweden's own policy is to phase out fossil fuels gradually, by 2050, for environmental reasons.
In addition, Mr. Hafstrom observed drily that in the context of the world recession Sweden's public finances were "in good order" and he expressed the hope that the United States would work on its own budget deficits and national debt after the elections.
Ambassador Hafstrom artfully passed along some good advice to his Pittsburgh audiences in a nonconfrontational way. He was a very welcome guest and Chatham was right to have brought him here as part of its Year of Scandinavia.