It was a long and winding road that brought lawyer Anna Reece to Brussels. Her initial ambition was to be a police chief in her native Sweden, but after two decades, three countries and four career roles – including full-time mother between 2001 and 2006 – she now finds herself as one of five directors in the Brussels office of Kreab Gavin Anderson, an Australian-Swedish consulting firm.
The global public-affairs specialist has some 40 staff in Brussels, and Reece focuses on international trade, external relations and EU enlargement, as well as issues of corruption and the rule of law. Among her clients are governments and private firms from countries seeking to join the EU, primarily in the Balkans, who worry about the impact of accession on their business, or their policies.
“Our clients come to me because they have a problem, and I quite like problems,” Reece says. “Our work is not marketing-driven; rather, we help clients with issues in the EU. New business is often driven by clients being late to new legislation and then worrying about its impact.”
Prior to joining Kreab Gavin Anderson last October, Reece worked as director for government service in the Brussels office of APCO Worldwide, another global company, where she specialised in energy and external relations. One of her high-profile cases concerned litigation by stockholders of Yukos, a Russian energy firm expropriated by the Russian government.
Reece, a mother of three, says that she ended up in consulting work by “coincidence”. Her intention had been to enter the European Commission after her five-year maternity leave, but the timing was bad: the EU’s institutions were looking to the ten countries that joined the EU in 2004 for recruits, not Swedes. When the Russian litigation opportunity opened up at APCO, she seized it.
Graduating from Stockholm University’s law school in 1992, Reece joined the Stockholm police department, where she was involved in interviewing asylum-seekers. “I did not specialise in asylum law at university,” Reece says. “I wasn’t one of those people who had a clear idea in law school what they will specialise in.”
But her police work led to a job as a country expert at Sweden’s main appeals court for asylum-seekers, where she dealt with some of the largest caseloads – people from former Yugoslavia, which was just descending into years of brutal warfare, and from various countries in Africa, including Somalia, Ethiopia and Zaire, as it was then. This, in turn, led – after a brief stint practicing law in a private firm – to a job with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Banja Luka, the Bosnian Serb capital.
The war had ended just months earlier, in November 1995, and Reece’s job was to ensure that the few non-Serbs who were still in Serb-held areas were safe. She also organised ‘go-and-see visits’ for people who had been expelled and were now considering returning to their pre-war residences – visits that regularly provoked riots and the stoning of UNHCR vehicles. In March 1997, Reece moved on to the Office of the High Representative, the main foreign overseer of the Bosnian peace process. Following a few months in the disputed town of Brc?ko, she moved to Sarajevo to work on police reform.
Almost three years in post-war Bosnia was long enough, she says. “After Bosnia I wanted to go back to civilisation.” She was hired by the newly launched Council of the Baltic Sea States to set up a secretariat in Stockholm. This brought her into regular contact with the foreign ministries, and foreign ministers, of the EU’s Nordic members, the three Baltic states and Russia, and also with the EU institutions – a prelude, so to speak, to the high-level contacts that are so crucial to her current work.
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