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Between Stockholm&Brussels: an interview with Annika Hahn-Englund Ambassador of Sweden to Belgium

Dernière mise à jour : 9 nov. 2020

On the 27th October 2020, we interviewed Annika Hahn-Englund, ambassador of Sweden to Belgium.

Back On Track Belgium: How long have you been Ambassador in Belgium and what is your background?

Annika Hahn-Englund: I have been ambassador to Belgium since 2016. Before that I was ambassador for Nordic Co-operation. In the past I have been working in Brussels at the Swedish EU-representation and at the General Secretariat of the EU Commission, also I have been posted to Germany and to China.

You work, if I understand it correctly, in Stockholm. Are you often in Belgium?

AHE: Yes, under normal circumstances I am in Belgium very often, almost every week.

How do you travel you to Belgium?

AHE: Normally I travel by air.

In September of this year, the German Transport Minister, Andreas Scheuer, presented the TEE 2.0 project and talked about redeploying night trains in Europe (EuroNight). He explicitly presented certain routes including Paris - Brussels / Amsterdam - Hamburg - København - Stockholm. This route is not one of the priority routes: What is the position of Sweden here?

Where are the main problems?

AHE: We have noted the presentation of the TEE 2.0 project by Germany and follow the process with interest. At present, we have no position on the German proposal. In general, we are supportive of initiatives to promote cross-border passenger services by rail that are in line with EU railway policy.

What is your estimate regarding the time to complete this route?

AHE: According to the assignment given to the Swedish National Transport Administration (Trafikverket), the expected start of the night train service is 1 August 2022. For the Swedish Government, one of the preferred destinations is Brussels, but since all long-distance international train services must be run on commercial basis in Germany and Belgium, it is up to the operator to decide on the final destination. It could turn out to be Brussels, but it could also turn out to be some other destination. It is Trafikverket who are responsible for the negotiations with the operators.

We now have a new coalition in Belgium. The new Minister of Transport, Mr. Gilkinet, has formally said that Belgium should become a hub for night trains in Europe: Do you see here a chance to move faster on a Stockholm-Brussels connection?

AHE: The schedule for the start of the night train services is already tight as it is, and it is unlikely that they will start before the expected starting date of 1 August 2022.

Thanks to our action (not only), we have already made progress on the return of night trains to Belgium. A resolution for a European support for international passenger rail transport was voted in June: How did Sweden go about laying the foundations for the night train's return in your country and what can we learn from the Swedes?

AHE: There has been a resurgence in the interest of journeys with night trains during the last years, in Sweden as well as in other countries. This is a welcomed development and the Swedish government not only wants to meet this increased interest but also stimulate further demand by facilitating the possibilities to travel in a climate smart way. The introduction of night trains to other European countries is part of this, which was made possible by an agreement between the government and the two coalition parties.

In the plans of the Swedish government the connection (Malmö /) Stockholm-Brussels will involve four countries: How can Sweden work with Belgium to put this plan in place?

Where does communication take place between the two states: between transport ministries? Between the transport committees of both national parliaments?

AHE: The realisation of this project is of course highly dependent on the cooperation from other countries. Trafikverket is responsible for the procurement of the night train services and will take necessary contacts with the parties concerned. We hope for constructive cooperation from Belgium as well as other countries.

There is a working group with representatives from Ministries of Transport in both Sweden and Belgium together with Denmark and Germany. Also there are contacts on political level between our two countries. What is your function here and how can you support that cooperation?

AHE: My function as ambassador to Belgium is to support bilateral relations and Swedish interests in Belgium and to facilitate contacts. I am sure that there will be many possibilities to support the cooperation.

It seems that the Scandinavians (Swedes, Norwegians and Danes) are among the biggest supporters of night trains in Europe. Politics reacts in extremely proactive ways there: Where does this dynamic come from?

AHE: Swedish climate policy is very ambitious and the awareness of the challenge that climate change poses to our future is high. In a study conducted in behalf of Trafikverket, the main driving force behind the choice of night trains among potential customers is the environmental advantage, and there is a strong willingness to act in a way that reduces climate change.

In order for the passengers to take the night trains, various things still need to be done. What initiative has the Swedish government and the Swedish civil society taken to change the behaviour of Swedish citizens so that they become accustomed to taking the

(night) train rather than the plane?

AHE: As I said earlier, the introduction of night trains to other European countries is one of the measures taken by the Government to facilitate and to stimulate increased demand for climate smart travelling. In 2018 Sweden introduced a tax on air travel on both domestic and international flights. Sweden also think it should be possible for states to tax fossil jet fuel in international aviation.

Back-on-Track is a trans-European network of night train supporters. We interact with the MEPs and Members of national parliaments, and now more and more with the mayors: What role can cities like Malmö, Stockholm, Brussels or Luxembourg play in the development of the night train?

AHE: Safety and security are increasingly important for citizens and creating environments around major railway stations for long-distance railway services is one way that the cities can contribute.

2021 is the year of the rail: Has the Swedish Embassy planned any specific events?

AHE: Sweden is making large investments in rail and sees rail transport as one key to reduce the carbon footprint of transport. We are looking forward to the year of rail, however we have not yet decided upon specific events.

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