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International Geneva Swiss to speed up Palais des Nations repairs

Aerial view of the "Palais des Nations", the United Nation's European headquarters (middle), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) (middle left) and World Health Organization (WHO) (top left)

(Keystone)

The cabinet has agreed to pay for a sizeable chunk of urgently needed repairs to Geneva's crumbling Palais des Nations, the European headquarters of the United Nations. This is part of a new strategy to boost International Geneva’s attractiveness.

The government has decided that it is time to “step on the accelerator” to facilitate the renovation of buildings used by international organisations based in Switzerland, Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter told reporters on Thursday.

In the case of the sprawling Palais building, which is in urgent need of a major facelift and repairs, Switzerland will meet 50 per cent of the costs.

“This will most probably be around CHF300 million ($318 million), which will be covered by a 30-year loan at an interest rate below the market rate,” Burkhalter said.

The grandiose exterior of the 80-year-old building – originally constructed to house the League of Nations – hides miles of leaky and rusted pipes, outdated wiring and draughty windows. The historical complex, which attracts some 100,000 tourists and hosts thousands of meetings a year, also reportedly suffers from frequent internal flooding.

Geneva cantonal and city authorities are also expected to dip into their pockets to help finance the Palais repairs, alongside the UN.

Work has already started on replacing old windows and insulating the UN headquarters thanks to a CHF50 million contribution from Switzerland.

Tough competition

The “International Geneva and its Future” report outlines the ever-tougher competition to host organisations among cities such as Montreal, the Hague, Bonn, Vienna, Budapest, Abu Dhabi, Manila and Copenhagen. 

In October 2012, Geneva’s ambitions to host the permanent secretariat of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) were dashed when the fund’s board chose the South Korean city of Songdo as the new home for the environmental agency. 

Since 2008 there have been some 21 partial delocalisations (mostly humanitarian, human rights and migration sectors) from Geneva and 18 installations (mostly environment and sustainable development) in the city.  

The main delocalisation destinations were New York, Copenhagen, Brussels, Paris, Turin, Budapest, Istanbul, Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Nairobi. Their activities are essentially administrative, IT, logistics and finance related; the main reasons for moving from Geneva are to reduce costs, but also to be closer to the field.

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Assume responsibility

Geneva is home to the headquarters of 32 international organisations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The Geneva-based Foundation for the Property of International Organisations (FIPOI) estimates that renovation work to aging buildings in Geneva could amount to CHF1.2 billion over the next ten years.

Support for the renovation of buildings used by international organisations in Switzerland is part of a new strategy set out in a report entitled “International Geneva and its Future” to strengthen the attractiveness and competitiveness of Switzerland as a host state, adopted by the cabinet on June 26.

“Switzerland has to assume its responsibility to find solutions to global challenges,” said Burkhalter.

Raft of measures

The strategy includes a raft of measures from improvements to the welcome of new organisations, staff and visitors through simpler visa and work permit procedures to installing new video-conferencing equipment.

The authorities hope to also develop existing and new networks, attract new think tanks and develop a collaborative governance initiative between the Graduate Institute and the University of Geneva at the Château de Penthes complex.

Burkhalter stressed that all 193 UN members should be present in Geneva and efforts would be made to encourage the 22 diplomatic missions from less-developed countries which have been unable to come there.

A “Geneva +” working group will also be set up to look at the future challenges facing the city and the evolution of global governance and a joint observatory will be created to closely monitor developments in the international sector in Geneva.

Efforts will be undertaken to improve the communication and visibility of International Geneva.

But Burkhalter stressed that Geneva was “a place of peace where people can work discreetly”.

Challenges

Addressing concerns about local insecurity and limited affordable housing – frequently heard from international civil servants based in Geneva – cantonal president Charles Beer felt recent efforts by the local police and justice systems were already showing positive results.

He added that the canton was “meeting the housing challenge through various building projects and de-zoning measures”.

His counterpart, Sandrine Salerno, the mayor of Geneva, noted that the Jardin des Nations housing project should be going ahead, allowing the construction of apartments on free space in particular on parkland next to the ILO building.

Some 40,000 international diplomats and civil servants are based in Geneva; in addition there are around 2,400 staff working for 250 non-governmental organisations. Around 8,500 staff work for the United Nations in Geneva, which is the largest concentration of UN personnel in the world.

Over 2,700 international conferences and meetings are held in the city every year, attended by 200,000 experts and delegates and 3,000 heads of state.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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