'Discussions with Diplomats' Returns with a Nordic Diplomacy Panel
Braving snowy conditions in both Canadian and Nordic spirit, on February 22, 2023, students gathered at the Munk Observatory for the highly anticipated in-person return of the Discussions with Diplomats series.
The University of Toronto’s European Studies Students’ Association (ESSA) has grown this student-led initiative into somewhat of a tradition and hosting the distinguished guests on campus was certainly an exciting occasion.
Students had the opportunity to hear from three Nordic diplomats; Ambassador Roy Eriksson of Finland, Ambassador Hlynur Guðjónsson of Iceland, and Deputy Head of Mission for the Kingdom of Denmark, Jacob Bay Lindkvist. The diplomats generously shared their time and perspectives with students offering invaluable insights on their positions through their introductions and panel discussion, and engaging directly with the students’ questions.
The conversation began with each diplomat discussing their path into this career, many of them mentioning an interest in marketing–even media and journalism. It was clear that the career of a diplomat is a combination of interests that range from history and communications to economics and politics. As the panel showed, having diplomats from a variety of educational and professional backgrounds is vital for bringing diverse approaches and perspectives to diplomacy. Among the three panellists Ambassador Guðjónsson and Deputy Head of Mission Lindkvist had come from the private sector and journalism, respectively, but were able to transform their academic interests and professional backgrounds into a career in government. Ambassadors Eriksson and Guðjónsson both shared that they approach diplomacy similar to the way they conducted market research in previous roles, by moving from product branding to “nation branding.” This thought-provoking viewpoint illuminated how transferable skills from all industries can be applied to diplomacy.
The discussion progressed with questions from the audience, who were especially interested in Arctic issues and NATO. All three of the distinguished guests were eager to engage with the topic of Arctic issues, especially given they were recently engaged in the Arctic360 Conference. For the diplomats, environmental topics are at the forefront of relations between Arctic nations, and previously served as an important avenue for connection through the Arctic Council.
However, following the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Council remains at somewhat of a standstill as relations with Russia have been severed. Ambassador Guðjónsson shared that this has resulted in Nordic nations developing closer and deeper ties with other nations, including Canada, who are also stakeholders in the Arctic.
Audience members expressed interest in how the war in Ukraine influenced decisions to join NATO. Ambassador Eriksson shared that Finnish sentiment towards NATO went from cautious about joining prior to February 24, 2022, to a “now or never” attitude following the invasion. Indeed, Eriksson stated that current Finnish interest in becoming a part of NATO is at a larger margin than in the 90s, when they were first considering joining the European Union.
Following the question period, students were able to gain elevated insights from the diplomats over coffee. The opportunity to engage personally with international members of foreign service was a truly valuable experience, and we are grateful to the diplomats for their time. We are also grateful to ESSA and CERES for facilitating this event.
If you are a student who would like to be a part of the next Discussions with Diplomats event happening March 8, continue to monitor the events page as well as the ESSA and CERES social media accounts.