It's tough to get even a small group of people to agree on what to order for dinner. Imagine the task of unifying the voices of hundreds of millions of people across 27 European countries. That is the job of Olof Skoog, European Union (EU) Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), and he shared these challenges with students on a recent trip to Lehigh.

Ambassador Skoog was the 28th speaker in the Ambassadorial Speaker Series hosted by the Lehigh University / United Nations Partnership. Rather than hosting a lecture-style event, the LU/UN Partnership staff invited a pool of global-minded students to join a Q&A session with the Ambassador. The diverse audience of about 50 sat level to the ambassador in the Linderman Library Rotunda, all prepared to take advantage of the rare opportunity. 

Emma Hartmann, a graduating senior and UN Youth Representative, began the session with an introduction of the Ambassador. He then provided brief remarks about his career, the challenges facing the EU regarding Ukraine, and diplomacy at the UN. 

He gave the students insight on the complexity of the UN, saying, “The UN is very much a mirror of the world. If you want to get an instant image of the world, there’s no better place than to just spend a day or two or week in the UN.”

Skoog then opened the floor to questions, and students asked about the pressing issues concerning high-end diplomats like himself. Vitalik Martyniak, a Ukrainian first year student studying International Relations, asked “According to the EU, how should the war in Ukraine end, and what is the EU willing to do to achieve that scenario?” 

Skoog responded with candor about the European stance on the war. “It’s up to Ukraine,” saying that Europe cannot repeat the mistake of conceding to aggressive adversaries. “We have an aggressor and we have a victim, and in that situation we have to support the victim.” He continued to explain how the EU supports Ukraine’s defenses to increase their influence before negotiating peace with Russia. 

Aliya Haddon, fourth year International Relations student, asked about sparking change to catch up to the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Skoog responded, “[The Agenda] needs to be localized,” using waste prevention in U.S. cities as an example.. “[You all] have to familiarize your local leaders with this commitment.” 

“I heard his message as a call to action,” said Haddon. “As a student of international development and diplomacy, it was energizing to participate in critical conversations with such a prominent diplomatic official.”

Ambassador Skoog’s three-hour visit also included a Greening of the UN Missions certificate ceremony from the Office of Sustainability and a luncheon with students and staff. Upon arriving at the luncheon, Skoog expressed his gratitude for receiving the certificate, which commended the EU’s Mission for creating sustainable change in the workplace. The guests - including Nathan Urban, the provost and vice president of student affairs - then engaged in a policy and current events discussion with the Ambassador. 

As the ambassador departed campus, he expressed a clear desire to strengthen the EU Mission to the UN’s relationship with Lehigh, offering to host a group of students on a trip to the UN this October. He also offered to help enable more EU member states to undertake the Greening of the UN Missions review.