Meet H.E. Stefan Gullgren

7 February 2024

30 years of service in the name of Sweden has brought Stefan Gullgren from the far east to the very west of Europe. Having served as Ambassador to Poland and Ukraine, and at the Embassy of Sweden in Moscow, he’s now taking on the role as Ambassador of Sweden to the UK. The Link sat down with him to learn more about his background, the importance of bilateral relations and how Sweden and the UK can grow even stronger bonds. 

"Sweden and the UK have a strong bond and a good relationship, and I aim to improve it even further – especially within areas such as industry, trade, and security,” Stefan says and continues: “It’s certainly in our interest to continue building these collaborations in areas where both Sweden and Britain have much to offer, and where we would be stronger and more successful by working together.”

Barely six weeks into his new role, Stefan has already identified some key opportunities that could benefit both Sweden and the UK, and their respective communities. With a strong trade foundation already in place, he believes that the countries could collaborate more within areas where they are among the best in the world. 

“Britain has great experiences within highly advanced technology – artificial intelligence, cyber security and quantum technology, to name a few. And Sweden has a lot to offer as well with world leading companies in many of the most advanced technological areas. Our shared interest to be at the forefront of such innovation provides a great platform for cooperation.”

By thinking more about how to build strong and close ties, Stefan believes we could achieve better results. He emphasises the importance of working together to stabilise the region, with the uncertainty caused by the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which has had an impact on the security of not only Sweden and the UK, but the whole of Europe.

“These are serious times, and I think we need to be prepared for quite a long time of uncertainty in Europe. We don’t know how long the war will continue for and we don’t know what will happen after the war – with Europe, with Russia, nor with the economy. In addition, we need to deal with other global challenges such as climate change. This is a time where we conduct policies, not because we chose to, but because they are necessary.”

According to Stefan, Sweden and the UK have a solid foundation to collaborate on security issues, something he believes will get even stronger when Sweden becomes a full member of the NATO alliance.

“If you look at our relationship with the UK today, you’ll see that we are working very closely together in supporting Ukraine, and that we have a very close cooperation on Eastern Europe in general as well as on security and defence policy. Now, with our hopefully soon to be fully realised membership of NATO, I hope we can collaborate even more within issues concerning security and defence – something I’ve had reason to deal with in my previous roles.”

During his nearly 30 years in the field of foreign affairs, Stefan has already served at the Swedish embassies in several Eastern European countries, including Russia, Poland, and Ukraine. And despite his success as a diplomat, he says that his choice of career was something of a coincidence. Initially with plans to study law, he enrolled at Uppsala University in 1989, subsequently specialising in international taxation and international commercial law. While in Uppsala, seeing the overthrow of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 and the events that followed, he decided to take up extra courses in parallel to his law studies at the university’s department for East European Studies.

“I got very interested in everything that was happening in Eastern Europe and I started taking extracurricular courses following these events. In one of the courses, we were expected to be able to follow the reporting of these events also in Russian printed media, which is how I came to take up the Russian language.”

Stefan completed his studies in 1994 and as the summer approached, he applied for various traineeships. He was offered a traineeship at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who, thanks to his studies of Eastern Europe and the Russian language, ended up offering him a two-year contract at the Embassy of Sweden in Moscow. 

“None of this was part of my plan; I was planning on serving as a clerk at the court after the summer, and I just needed something to do in between. Then this opportunity in Moscow came up, and as a 26-year-old with no firm plans, I just thought ‘well why not?’”

This was the beginning of Stefan’s career as a diplomat. His contract at the Embassy in Moscow got extended a couple of times, before he decided to pursue the Diplomatic Training Programme at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sweden.  

“Having completed a term of four years at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Stockholm, my wife and I decided to return to Moscow. After a couple of years at the Embassy’s political section dealing with mainly Russian internal politics, I became head of the section for economic affairs and trade. In this position, I had an opportunity to work closely with the Swedish business community to promote their and Sweden’s economic interests. I found that very inspiring, and together we achieved quite a lot.”

After more than six years in Moscow, Stefan was appointed Ambassador of Sweden to Ukraine, and served in Kyiv for almost five years, before returning to Stockholm where he became head of the department for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. His next diplomatic chapter took him to Warsaw in 2017, when he was appointed Ambassador of Sweden to Poland. He stayed there until moving to London just a few months ago. Even though it’s his first time living in the UK, he believes that he, like most Swedes, has some sort of bond to the country. 

“I think that Swedes in general have a feeling of familiarity with the UK and its culture. Many Swedes have studied in the UK when they were young, and many of us grew up reading Agatha Christie and other crime authors and watching criminal dramas on TV like Midsomer Murders. All this is making us feel quite close to the Brits.” 

While serving abroad and in Stockholm, Stefan has worked closely with the UK and British colleagues and has been following the events taking place in the country. As a new Ambassador to the UK, he believes that some things will be similar to his previous roles, while others will be completely different. 

“I come in with a lot of experience on Eastern Europe, security and defence issues as well as promoting Swedish economic and business interests – all of which were key tasks in my roles in Eastern Europe and in Stockholm. I think these will be key issues also during my time here in the UK,” he says and continues: “However, many things are new and different. The Embassy of Sweden in London is one of the larger Swedish embassies in the world. A vital part of what we do is to offer consular services to the more than 100,000 Swedes living in the country, which includes processing and handing out more than 11,000 passports per year. We are constantly working towards making these services more efficient and accessible to the Swedes living in the UK’’.” 

Needless to say, Stefan has a full agenda for the months, even years, to come. Still relatively new in his role, he says he is mostly looking forward to creating connections and new relationships within the Swedish-British community. 

“First and foremost, I want to meet as many people as I can, especially now in the beginning. I want to understand not only what the Embassy is doing, but what the Embassy could be doing – in order to build, improve and leverage on our strong bond to the UK. I’d say I’m optimistic; I’m humble but determined to do my best.” 

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