A State Visit: how it works

Motiv: State Visits usually begin at the Royal Mews. Photo: Anna Östergren
Since The King came to the throne in 1973, The King and Queen have carried out many incoming and outgoing State Visits. Their first joint State Visit was to the Netherlands in 1976, and the most recent was to Brazil in 2010. 18 January marks another State Visit, when Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves visits Sweden.
One week before a State Visit, a large meeting is held at the Royal Palace of Stockholm for all those who are involved in the visit in some way. The meeting is led by First Marshal of the Court Lars-Hjalmar Wide, together with Head of the Protocol Department Caroline Vicini from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs External link, opens in new window.. Today, the last pieces of the puzzle will come together and the final details will be discussed. Estonian ambassador Alar Streimann opens the meeting by explaining that a similar meeting was held the previous week in Estonia, and that the President is very much looking forward to the visit. After that, we go through the entire programme together. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Swedish Security Service, the police and the Royal Court are all in attendance. Details are settled such as which language the speeches during the banquet will be given in (speakers will speak in their respective languages, and translations will be given out), whether we have the sheet music for the Estonian national anthem (yes, we do), and who will accompany the President when he visits the apartment in Vällingby where he was born (as few people as possible).
After the meeting, we have the opportunity to speak with Lars-Hjalmar Wide. As First Marshal of the Court, he has the ultimate responsibility for the Royal Family's official programme. Naturally, State Visits are an important part of this.

The programme for the State Visit is now ready, but what has the process up until now been like?
The programme is drawn up in discussion with the visiting country, in this case Estonia. A State Visit always includes a couple of set programme points, particularly the first day, when much of what happens is of a ceremonial nature. The procession to the Royal Palace. The arrival ceremony at the courtyard with the national anthems. The delegation greeting the Royal Family. The private lunch between The King and Queen and the Presidential couple. Visits to the Speaker and the Prime Minister. The banquet in the evening at the Royal Palace. The second day tends to be more business-oriented, with a focus on issues of economic cooperation. For example, the programme for this visit includes visits to the Swedish Trade Council and the electricity supplier Svenska Kraftnät. The City of Stockholm usually hosts a lunch at Stockholm City Hall. And there's normally a reciprocal dinner on the second day, hosted by the visiting country. Day three is often spent somewhere else in Sweden. For example, this time there will be visits to the Nordic Battle Group in Enköping and Uppsala University Hospital. The County Governor of Uppsala will be hosting lunch, and President Ilves will be giving a speech at Uppsala University.
Who decides on the programme?
It's decided in consultation between the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the visiting country and the Royal Court. The programme includes points of interest for the visiting country, things that Sweden is good at and things that Sweden wants to show the visitors. The detailed planning and the footwork are carried out by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, which acts as convenor.
Now there's less than a week left until the visit — when did the planning for the Estonian visit begin?
Around four months ago. We begin by meeting with the embassy and presenting how we normally arrange a State Visit, together with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The ambassador then presents the interests and questions that are important to the visiting country, and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs starts sketching out a programme. I then summarise the main points for The King and Queen, and they might have some views that need to be referred back to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. In this way, we gradually draw up a programme. A more intensive stage begins around two months before the visit, when a pre-visit delegation comes here. The Estonians came here at the beginning of December last year. Things run at a keen pace and we visit all the locations on the programme, checking timings and transport. Some programme points are struck off the list, and others are added. We then have a concrete plan for the visit.
You were previously Head of the Protocol Department at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and you've seen State Visits from both sides. What are the differences?
As Head of the Protocol Department, you're responsible for the participation of the Swedish Government representatives in the State Visit, as well as the planning of the programme points that are not of a directly state ceremonial nature. For the First Marshal of the Court, the emphasis is on the involvement of The King and Queen and the activities carried out under the Royal Court's management, such as the welcoming ceremony and the gala dinner.
How do you decide which countries to invite?
That's a process that the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister's Office decide on two to three years in advance. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs draws up a list of possible countries, and the list is then approved by the Prime Minister's Office. The Minister for Foreign Affairs visits The King and Queen a couple of times a year, and one or two main proposals are presented. Of course, The King assents to the Government's wishes. After a country has been decided on, we hold further discussions on timings and the exact date of the visit, and The King and Queen then send an official invitation.
Finally — last autumn there was some discussion about which companies are invited in when hosting a State Visit. Can you explain what the process it, once and for all?
Yes, the decision lies solely with the Swedish Trade Council. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs announces that there will be an incoming or outgoing State Visit. The Swedish Trade Council then sets things in motion and sends out invitations to companies that can register to attend. There is then an entirely separate delegation that the Swedish Trade Council is responsible for. Two separate delegations travel: the official delegation and the business delegation. Of course, the two delegations sometimes have joint programme points, but neither we nor the Ministry for Foreign Affairs have a say when it comes to which companies accompany the visit.
Find out more about State Visits here. Opens in new window.
Find out more about the Office of the Marshal of the Court here. Opens in new window.