Today, the Swedish Prime Minister’s assistant secretary Lars Danielsson decided to take a long vacation.
In Sweden, this is known as “taking a time out” (without a dash) and was introduced as a political concept back in 1995 when Mona Sahlin had her hopes of succeeding Ingvar Carlsson as chairman of the Social Democratic Party and Prime Minister thwarted in a bizarre scandal involving among other things a Toblerone chocolate bar.
In an article in Friday’s edition of Svenska Dagbladet, Mr. Danielsson declared that he had spent December 26 2004 with his family and maintained that he had taken active measures to stay in touch with the Swedish Foreign Office.
Hans Dahlgren of the FO on the other hand maintains his version of the course of the day in which Mr. Danielsson did not call the FO. Unlike Mr. Danielsson, Mr. Dahlgren has produced telephone records to substantiate his version.
So – what about the rumours about you-know-what?
Svenska Dagbladet’s political editor Göran Eriksson has an interesting perspective regarding the rumours about Lars Danielsson and Helen Eduards and if Eriksson’s version of this part of the story is basically right, then it tells a lot about the relationship between the Swedish Foreign Office and the Prime Minister’s Office.
First, a little background: Since Laila Freivalds took over as Foreign Minister following the murder of Anna Lindh in 2003, stories about unease in the Foreign Office have hit the frontpages of Swedish newsmedia at regular intervals. We have had complaints about the minister, complaints about politically motivated appointments of diplomats and finally the conflict over who bungled the handling of the Tsunami disaster.
A common theme has been that the FO has felt that it has lost political weight relative to the Prime Minister’s Office to the degree that it has become an agency of the PMO rather than an independent authority. Lars Danielsson has been identified as the main actor at the Prime Minister’s Office with Helen Eduards as the PMO’s main agent within the Foreign Office.
This makes Eduards an obvious target for attacks from frustrated career diplomats and sexual innuendo is an effective (or at least well-tested) way of undermining her authority in the organisation even if Lars Danielsson and eventually the Prime Minister are the real targets of diplomat resentment.
The appointment of Jan Eliasson as Foreign Minister doesn’t solve this problem: Eliasson is a career diplomat, not a politician with an independent base and he cannot restore the Foreign Office’s position vis-ŕ-vis the Prime Minister’s Office.
In fact, there are many reasons why the FO will have a smaller role in Swedish Foreign policy compared with former times and not all of them have to do with Göran Persson’s style of governing. But the Prime Minister – be it Persson or Fredrik Reinfeldt – will need to address the role and organisation of the FO if he wants to avoid serious conflicts between the FO and the PMO.