Meet the Ambassador

Bengt van Loosdrecht’s appointment as Dutch ambassador to Sweden has taken him back to his mother’s native country. There is much more space and nature in Sweden, and the people are quieter and more polite, he says. But there are also similarities. ‘Both Sweden and the Netherlands are innovators. As ambassador I see it as my mission to bring clever minds in both countries together to tackle the big challenges of our age.’

Bengt van Loosdrecht, the Dutch Ambassador in Sweden.

After a career that has taken him to Kigali, New York, New Delhi, Hanoi and Addis Ababa, Bengt van Loosdrecht has arrived home in Stockholm. His mother was Swedish, he spends every summer there and he has more family in Sweden than in the Netherlands. Though his partner and children, aged 17 and 19, do live in the Netherlands. ‘Of course it’s difficult. A career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is sometimes difficult to square with your kids’ education. But Stockholm isn’t far away, luckily.’

What would you say is a big difference between Sweden and the Netherlands?

‘There’s so much space and nature here, that’s a big difference with the Netherlands, where we don’t have any real nature. It also has an impact on people’s attitudes. The Swedes are quieter and more polite than the Dutch. They are more circumspect in their interactions; you’re not supposed to blurt out what you think. Swedes are even more inclined towards consensus than we are. I find that pleasant, though it does of course have its drawbacks, as it sometimes takes a while before a problem can actually be discussed.

‘There are more similarities actually. We have similar Protestant values. Sweden is the world leader in innovation, the Netherlands is fifth. In that sense we understand and mutually reinforce each other.’

What was it like when you first moved to Sweden in 2020, during the COVID pandemic?

‘The first year things were pretty quiet and lonely for me as ambassador. Sweden hasn’t had any lockdowns. Shops and restaurants remained open and there was no obligation to wear a face mask. But most gatherings were online or very small. Our work at the embassy continued, but I’m glad that it became easier to meet in person after the first year.’

You grew up trilingual, speaking Swedish, French and Dutch. Which language do you identify with most?

‘The way I see it, I have three different personalities. As soon as I switch from Dutch to French or Swedish my personality changes. When I’m speaking French, the way I behave is more southern European. And the northern European in me comes out when I speak Swedish. I love that. And it’s so enriching to live in different countries and get to know differences in language and custom. You start to question certain attitudes and conventions in the Netherlands, and that opens you up to other ideas. It makes you more flexible.’

Sweden and the Netherlands are both highly innovative countries, on things like sustainable energy for example

What matters are Sweden and the Netherlands collaborating on?

‘The big issue here right now is the threat from Russia. Since the start of the war in Ukraine there has been concern that Russia will also invade Scandinavia. Sweden and Finland are both considering joining NATO. We’re following the debate very closely.

‘Economic diplomacy is another key responsibility for me. As I said, Sweden and the Netherlands are both highly innovative countries, on things like sustainable energy for example. Sweden is manufacturing steel using hydrogen, for instance, which radically cuts carbon emissions. We’re working together on green energy, artificial intelligence, the digital transition and life sciences. Sweden and the Netherlands also supply each other with a lot of machinery, and I hope that will shift to more sustainable equipment.’

What are you hoping to achieve as ambassador to Sweden?

‘I see it as my job to bring together clever minds in Sweden and the Netherlands to find solutions to the big problems of our time. Sweden has a lot of engineers. There’s a lot of collaboration here between the authorities, companies and knowledge institutions in science parks. They work together and don’t begrudge each other’s success, and that leads to great things. I feel like the Netherlands could learn from that.

‘We recently organised an event on electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The Netherlands is quite advanced in that respect. The seminar at the embassy was well attended. Another example is a big construction fair in Stockholm where 13 Dutch companies presented new sustainable building materials. Sweden wants to build a lot of homes in the near future, particularly in the far north, and they need to be built sustainably.’

Where would you most like to life after you retire, the Netherlands or Sweden?

‘Ha ha! I haven’t reached that stage yet! Who knows where my career will take me? I sometimes think of a line in the second verse of the Swedish national anthem: ‘I want to live, I want to die in the North’. I really do feel that. I think that might be my answer.’