Weathering the Storms
16 August 2016
Johanna Bjarsch Follin
Since its inception in 1906, the Swedish Chamber of Commerce has grown into one of the largest and most active foreign Chambers in the UK. This year, the Chamber is celebrating its 110th anniversary and this will be acknowledged during the year through articles highlighting the Chamber’s history. In this issue, we feature how the Chamber has managed to stay strong during times of uncertainty.
In future history books, the year 2016 may perhaps not be remembered for all its positive events, but rather the opposite. In the referendum held in June, the British cast their vote to leave the European Union, a result which leaves us wondering – what will happen now? In these times of uncertainty we want to highlight how the Chamber has been a safe harbour forging Anglo-Swedish business and trade for 110 years, and will continue to do so for another 110 years to come and beyond.
Looking back at history, how did the Chamber cope with difficult times? Since the inception of the Chamber in 1906, the world has struggled with two World Wars and fi nancial crises, migrant crises, political instability, and global warming threats, events which all affect the global economic environment. Thus, direct or indirect, it has also affected our Members. By examining the events the Chamber has survived through, perhaps we can gain perspective and learn how to endure these uncertain times.
The World Wars
The Great War (World War I) was detrimental to Europe and Britain, yet we can see that during the years after the war the membership base of the Chamber increased rapidly, from 850 Members in 1919 to 1300 in 1920. One can only assume that during the hard times following such a war, support from the Chamber was essential for maintaining black numbers in some industries, while increased business activity in others made the Chamber’s work forging relationships another reason for the peak in members. We can see the same trend after World War II, the post-war era attracted a large number of new Members to the Chamber.
The Cold War
During the Cold War (a term in fact coined by English writer George Orwell) the war stricken Europe suffered a giant migrant crisis, not much different from the one we have seen during the past year. The Iron Curtain divided Europe, and the “Iron Lady” liberalised Britain. The UK joined the ECC (European Economic Community, what later became EU) in 1975, and in a referendum two years later, 67 percent voted for staying as members.
In 1976, Swedish retail company H&M opened its first store outside of Scandinavia. Where? In London, of course! Perhaps the bitter, cold winds from the Cold War brought a need for more fashionable clothes for the Brits. H&M is now one of more than 40 of the Chamber’s greatly valued Patron Members.
Sweden and the UK are similar in many aspects, which may be one of the reasons the Swedish Chamber of Commerce for the UK is the largest Swedish Chamber of Commerce outside of Sweden. Both countries are constitutional monarchies which, at least up until recently, were both part of the EU but retained their own currencies. Sweden and the UK also used to be the only countries in Europe to be driving on the left-hand side of the road. As we all know, the Brits still keep up this habit, but a referendum in 1955 invited the Swedish public to vote on the subject, with the result of a whopping 82.3 per cent wanted to keep driving on the left side. Notwithstanding the public’s vote, the Swedish government decided to change, and the change from driving on the left to the right side in Sweden took place on 3 September 1967. When stressed by the outcome of the Brexit referendum, keep in mind that the result of a referendum, even given a clear majority (and not a 51 per cent against 49 per cent), still only serves as a guideline to the government.
While we cannot predict what the future holds, one thing we can do is to alleviate the uncertainty by looking at the timeline below and realising that the 20th century has been characterised by a series of unfortunate events for individuals, communities and businesses, yet we all stand here today. 2016 may not be over yet, and many events which could further affect the global economic environment are yet to unfold. When writing this, we are yet to see whether the May government will invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and if so, how an exit from the EU will affect the Chamber and our Members. We are yet to see who will win the forthcoming US presidential election, a result which will definitely affect global political economy and business irrespective of its outcome.
There are many unknowns, but regardless of the outcome of this Jubilee year, one thing is certain; with the joined forces of the Chamber the Anglo-Swedish business community will stay strong. The winds of EU may blow in any direction, but having survived these 110 years only proves one thing; what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. United we stand, and our ties are stronger now than than ever, as a network and close bonds are of uttermost importance in these times of uncertainty.