Sweden – European Union and regional development

I spent the weekend in Stockholm, recovering from the third of five overnight flights on the trip.  Stockholm is an amazing city to explore on bike or foot, with the whole city geared around cycling – dedicated cycle lanes with their own traffic lights.


Sunday I spent with some contacts I’d made in the US, which I’ll blog about on Wednesday when I’m travelling all day.

Without a car in Scandinavia and China, the trip has transitioned from the huge miles in the car and dashing from one meeting and location to another (I covered over 6500km in 4 weeks).  This means shifting to purely public transport and also a deliberate focus to understand several locations more in depth.  This week the smaller size of the likes of Sweden (9.5 million people) makes it a little easier to navigate compared to the scale of US with 320 million people.


The whole day was spent with Mats, who has worked at all levels from international to local so has been hugely helpful at giving an overview of economic development.  His present and past involvement includes the Center for Strategy and Competitiveness, the Karlstad Innovation Park, and the Paper Province…test your Swedish out on the links.

Karlstad is very similar to Taupo, with Sweden’s largest lake and is several hours from two major cities (Oslo in Norway 220km and Stockholm 314km).  Being closer to Norway’s major city brings it own dynamics as people don’t follow boundaries.  A smaller place like Karlstad enables it to be a pilot (they already have a Tesla charging station) and like many smaller locations there’s a culture of being able to easily connect with people.

Themes emerging from today:

  • Decentralisation – the importance of having money spent closer to where people are balancing “best practice” mixed with local context and innovation.  A lot of money comes from the European Union (EU).
  • Importance of Universities (heard this before?).  Karlstad University is young, having achieved University status in 1999, with 25% of courses delivered online…is there hope for Universities in smaller locations?
  • Smart Specialisation is a major focus for jobs and growth in the EU.  As I understand, it enables regions to understand changes in world economy and create more value.  BTW – Here’s a marketing video of the European economy.
  • Collaboration at a country level in the EU is common.  While Greece dominates the headlines…many of the programs operate EU wide with learnings shared between countries.  If you’re a nation like NZ (and regions within NZ) that needs to export, building relationships and trade is vital not just for income but collaboration and learning.  Note US is largely a domestic focused ecnomy with 12% of GDP as exports, NZ is 30% and Sweden is 44%.
  • Cluster development requires buy in of industry but all stakeholders including politicians and universities (plus I’d change politicians to government and add MIT’s suggestions from last week of entrepreneurs and risk capital).

Specific issues for smaller locations

  • Emerging issues here = broadband, clusters, more business establishment/starts, entrepreneurial spirit, smart specialisation.  All but the last one emerged in the US.
  • We will cover this tomorrow but the pulp and paper industry has gone from over 50 manufacturers in the region down to four.  So as industry competitiveness increases this often leads to less jobs.  This is hard for locations with job losses in the short term but what would you prefer – job losses now with a resilient industry or job losses with no industry?  This really brings to light the need to act now to develop economies, even if it does mean short term pain.

And finally…here’s who pays and receives what for all the countries in the EU…what would this look like in NZ?


Source: The Telegraph


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