With an impressive background as Kofi Annan’s special envoy in the former Yugoslavia, where his report paved the way for the independence of Kosovo, and as Ban Ki-moon’s special UN representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide is now Norway’s Ambassador in our neighbor to the east, Sweden.
It is a position he finds very agreeable: “It’s inspiring to work in Sweden. There are so many opportunities for our countries to work together. The Swedes are pleasant to work with. We understand each other well from a political and a cultural perspective, and there are no language barriers. When countries are this closely knit and have common objectives, there is a great potential for progress – in science and innovation. And we can do so much together in the world if we exploit the potential more fully.”
“Norway and Sweden are woven so tightly together. Often we take our good relationship for granted and we believe that there is not much more we can do. Everything runs smoothly and does not need our constant attention. I believe that is wrong. It is important to continue to work constantly on our relationship at a political level. For instance, our common infrastructure does not belong to the 21st century and is not constructed to meet today’s and – even less – tomorrow’s requirements. I think this is an area we should pay more attention to,” he says.
When asked about the contrast with his former postings, Eide is happy that his physical freedom is now very different from conflict regions where he has previously worked. He can walk around without security and start each day with a bike ride or a run with his dog. Nevertheless, he cannot hide that he misses the tension of being involved in something more dramatic. “That is how I am: I am attracted to this tension. But I also know that it is healthy for me to try to be useful, but without the risk”, he adds.
Although Sweden is one of the world’s safest countries, this past year has been an unusually dramatic time in Swedish politics, and this is something Eide has been able to keep a close watch on. He spends a lot of his time engaging with Swedish politicians. “Whatever the political situation – calm or more turbulent – we have shared interests, not least in transforming our economies to new realities and thereby ensure that we can prosper and be an example to others in what we can offer internationally,” says Eide.
Eide describes himself and his position as ambassador as a form of catalyst: “I try to facilitate so that the right experts meet each other, and create clusters of expertise within business, science, and innovation. I am not an expert in these areas, but I can bring the right people together so they can create results. I can push and they have to do the job,” he adds.
Developing infrastructure, innovation, and strengthening the ties between Norway and Sweden are three key objectives for Eide. “Norway is Sweden’s biggest commodity market. Can you imagine; 5 million Norwegians buy more commodities from Sweden than 82 million Germans! This means we are important to Sweden,” Eide says. And vice versa. Despite this fact, a recent public opinion poll showed that Swedes are not aware how important Norway is to Sweden, and this is an impression the ambassador wants to correct. A similar poll is planned in Norway this year, and he suspects that Norwegians do not know how important Sweden is to Norway either. This only reinforces the importance of his work.
When asked about the differences between Norwegians and Swedes, Eide points out that Swedes have a longer tradition of business, and this shows in the way they work professionally, which tends to be more systematic and organized than Norwegians. He does not appreciate the focus on power balance and the ‘big brother/little brother’ terminology that has been widely discussed in Norwegian media. Perhaps because he has witnessed what real power struggles and conflict looks like, he views this interpretation as silly, pointless and outdated.
Norway and Sweden are strongly integrated, which make the conditions perfect for working together. In the future, Eide wants to continue to focus on connecting the two countries’ expertise, and he thinks that green energy, transportation and industry are particularly exciting areas for innovation and new opportunities. “Norway is facing an adjustment in its economy, because of the declining oil prices. We can’t be dependent on oil. This means we have to come up with new ways of ensuring our income. The Swedes face their own innovation challenge. That opens up for new areas of cooperation,” Eide concludes.
BIO: Kai Aage Eide
- Born 28 February 1949 in Sarpsborg, Norway
- Holds a degree from the University of Oslo in 1975, where he studied political science, international law and French language and literature
- He has previously been active in national politics for the Conservative Party. In the Syse government (1989–90), he was State Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister.
- He has been a member of the Norwegian Foreign Service since 1975, most prominently as Norwegian Ambassador and Chairman of the Permanent Council of the OSCE and as Ambassador to NATO.
- He has spent 6 years in UN service. His report to the Secretary General of the United Nations on the political situation in former Serbian province of Kosovo resulted in the launching of the negotiations that ultimately brought about the independence of Kosovo in 2008
- He was appointed the UN Special Representative to Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in March 2008, a position he held until March 2010