Nation of Entrepreneurs

Claudia Fritsche, Ambassador of the Principality of Liechtenstein

The tiny Principality of Liechtenstein may seldom be on people’s minds, here in the U.S.—a fact driven as much by its size (62 square miles) as its location (tucked away in the Alps between Austria and Switzerland). Yet, when Liechtenstein’s ambassador, Claudia Fritsche, spoke at an International Studies Colloquium at the Rohatyn Center last week, she presented a vivid reminder that the best gifts sometimes come in small packages.

Addressing a well-attended gathering about Liechtenstein’s relationship to Europe and the U.S, Fritsche described a country filled with energy and drive. With a population of 36,000, Liechtenstein has the second lowest unemployment rate in the world. This small powerhouse generates so many jobs that half the workforce comes from neighboring countries.

“We’re a nation of entrepreneurs,” Fritsche said. Successfully transitioning from a poor agrarian society, the country now gets its largest share of GDP from manufacturing, with financial services following closely behind. Many Liechtenstein companies are internationally known for their high-quality products; yet, according to Fritsche, most people aren’t aware that Liechtenstein has a presence in their lives.

If you drive a Ford, the steering components were most likely made in the U.S. by a Liechtenstein company. Hilti, a global Liechtenstein manufacturer, makes the precision tools widely used in North America in construction and demolition. And anyone who goes to the dentist has probably had dental products used on their teeth that were made by a Liechtenstein corporation. The list goes on, even to include beautiful cut crystal used in jewelry.

But Liechtenstein’s strength doesn’t stop at its economy. Fritsche described how the Principality has been vigorously supporting international humanitarian cooperation to fight against torture and for the rights of women and children through its work in the UN and elsewhere. Women are an “untapped resource” she explained, with a lot to offer in peace making and conflict resolution. “The fact that the Nobel Peace Prize went to three women this year,” she said, “shows that people are beginning to understand that.”

But the Principality’s small size does come with disadvantages in the rough-and-tumble world of diplomacy, according to Fritsche. “You are looking at 30 percent of the embassy,” she joked. “I’m the only diplomat.”

Although she’d served in New York for years as the UN representative of Liechtenstein, the level of networking necessary in Washington surprised her. (It’s not done in her country.) “In my humble opinion, Washington, D.C., is the most competitive diplomatic environment you will ever find,” she said.  “We all want access. We’ve been sent there to represent our country’s interests; it’s the only reason we are there.”

She explained how she learned to cope—for example, by hiring an American on her staff who understands the D.C. culture. “When you are under the radar screen, you can’t get appointments,” she said. “You have to make sure you know people who have access. You have to be out and about all the time. . . . But first and foremost, you really, really have to love your country.”

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