Sectra CEO dismisses Wallström’s claim

In an interview with Dagens Industri on Monday, Foreign Minister Margot Wallström claimed that Sweden’s diplomatic spat with Saudi Arabia last year did not affect trade with the country.

“That’s not true. It had a devastating effect in the months afterwards, but things are improving now,” says Torbjörn Kronander, CEO of medical IT solutions company Sectra, in Tuesday’s edition of the business daily.

“Orders we believed we would win just disappeared into thin air. We had a much better order intake in Saudi Arabia before this palaver,” he adds.

For example, prior to the row, Sectra had been in talks with the country about initiating a pilot project to screen women for osteoporosis, but afterwards the talks just petered out.

EU proposes doubling rescue operations

imagesEuropean Union ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday proposed doubling the size of the EU’s search and rescue operations, as the first bodies were brought ashore after what could be as many as 900 were killed in the latest capsize in the Mediterranean.

In October 2013, after 400 African migrants drowned on their way to Italy, the Italian Navy began to patrol large areas of the Mediterranean in order to rescue the migrants who were trying to make their way to Europe in rickety boats. The operation, known as Mare Nostrum, was costly and Italy requested other EU member states to help fund and participate, via the EU border agency Frontex.

Operation Triton was conceived to replace Mare Nostrum (ed.) but has fewer resources and the area patrolled is smaller. According to Frontex, Operation Triton saved the lives of 7,000 people in one year. Italy’s Mare Nostrum saved the lives of 150,000.

“More funds need to be allocated to Triton and Frontex so they can handle the situation. But we also have to stop the traffickers who send people out to sea in these kinds of boat,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström from Luxembourg yesterday.

A blockade of the coast of Libya, from where 90% of the migrants start their journey across the Mediterranean, is not feasible, since it would play into the hands of the traffickers. However, the European Commission proposed on Monday that efforts should be made to capture and smash the Libyan smugglers’ boats.

Italian PM Matteo Renzi has said that it is impossible to return the migrants to Libya, because of the chaos there.

“Everyone is agreed that the EU and the member states must back the head of the UN support mission in Libya, Bernardino Leon, and give him all he help he needs to hopefully get an international coalition government in Libya,” said Wallström on Monday.

EU heads of state and government will meet in Brussels on Thursday to discuss migration.

End to Sweden’s crisis with Saudi Arabia

imagesAt a press conference on Saturday morning Foreign Minister Margot Wallström said that the government had sent its official emissary Björn von Sydow, the former (S) defence minister and Riksdag Speaker, to Saudi Arabia last Friday for talks with the Saudi government and King Salman. The government’s emissary had handed over two letters; one from Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf and one from Prime Minister Stefan Löfven.
Immediately afterwards Saudi Arabia is said to have decided to normalise relations with Sweden.
A happy and relieved Margot Wallström told the press meeting that the Saudi ambassador to Stockholm would be returning as soon as possible, but her and Stefan Löfven’s response to journalists’ repeated question “Has Sweden has apologised?” appeared rehearsed:
“We’ve been able to sort out misunderstandings that we have criticised Islam or slighted the Saudi government,” was the reply both Wallström and Löfven gave.
At Saturday’s press meeting, neither Wallström nor von Sydow wished to comment on the content of the letters, but von Sydow said that it was evident in his talks with the Saudi authorities that the relations between the Swedish and Saudi monarchies are good.
Arab News reported on Sunday that “Sweden has apologised” for the “insulting statements by its foreign minister, and hoped for better relations between the two countries”.
On Sunday evening Wallström clarified on SVT’s Agenda programme that Sweden had not apologised, but that the government had via its emissary conveyed its regret over the breach in diplomatic relations between the two countries, and explained that Sweden had not wished to attack Islam or insult Saudi Arabia.
According to the Swedish foreign ministry (MFA), the issue of halted business visas for Swedish citizens in Saudi Arabia has still not been resolved, but the hope is that the situation will “return to normal”. Erik Wirkensjö, press officer at the MFA, was unable to confirm at the weekend whether the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador would also be returning, but said the MFA hoped and believed he would.

Wallström in U-turn

SU27 fighter jets flew with transponders switched offSwedish military jets identified and tracked four Russian combat planes flying near Gotland and Bornholm on Tuesday morning. The aircraft – two TU22M bomber planes and two SU27 fighter jets – were flying in international airspace with their transponders switched off.

Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist said to the TT news agency that Russia had not violated international aviation rules, but added that Sweden had previously pointed out to Russia that this was inappropriate behaviour. “Flying without transponders in the way the Russians do is generally unsuitable,” he remarked.

Foreign Minister Margot Wallström first said it was unacceptable for Russian planes to be flying with their transponders shut off, calling it a violation of international aviation rules.

“We must have respect from Russia for the existing rules and regulations and an end to what has been incredibly challenging and downright dangerous for civil aviation. We are tired of always having to protest against this kind of … breach of rules.” she said.

However, later in the day Erik Boman, the Foreign Minister’s press secretary, called TT to clarify that Wallström and Hultqvist were in agreement. “Formally it is not a breach of rules, but it is inappropriate behaviour,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Swedish military said the threat against Sweden had not grown but that the Armed Forces were watching the “increased activity” in the region.

SU27 fighter jets flew with transponders switched off

Deal unlikely to be extended

Just hours before Margot Wallström was due to address the Arab League in Cairo on Monday, Saudi Arabia blocked the Swedish Foreign Minister’s plans.

“The explanation we have been given is that Sweden has highlighted the situation for democracy and human rights, and that is why they do not want me to speak,” Ms Wallström told the TT news agency.

The minister has told Swedish public service broadcaster Sveriges Television that she “ does not know if this will have any repercussions for the Swedish military co-operation agreement”. Additionally, it is clear that Saudi Arabia will not support Sweden’s candidacy for a seat on the UN Security Council.

Thord Jansson, a professor at the University of Gothenburg, who is an expert on Saudi Arabia, describes the snub as “exceptional” and suggests that Riyadh probably feels the arms deal will not be extended, following the criticism expressed by some Swedish politicians of the Kingdom and in the media in recent weeks.

“After this it would be odd if Sweden prolonged the deal … Sweden will probably be forced to break off the deal,” he has said.