Following the terrorist attack in Nice and an attempted coup in Turkey, Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter explains how the cabinet reacts to crises, why he is concerned by the consequences of events in Turkey – and why the world won’t just calm down.
“We’re living in a time of uncertainty and fear,” Burkhalter said in an interview with SonntagsBlick. “There are too many people in the world who have the impression that they don’t have a future and not enough rights. A future must be constructed with people, with populations, and not with populism.”
His comments come two days after at least 84 people were killed in the French resort of Nice – the Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attack by a local lorry driver who was killed by police – and one day after a thwarted coup in Turkey.
Switzerland’s multi-party seven-person cabinet, which has to speak with one voice, is occasionally criticised for being slow to respond to breaking and rapidly developing events. Burkhalter was asked how the cabinet reacts to such crises.
“It’s teamwork. Critical situations like that keep many people in the foreign ministry awake at night. I’m in contact with the responsible people in the department. That was the case the other night when, after the horrific attack in Nice, the crisis management centre updated me regularly, also about possible Swiss victims.”
The attack, in which at least two Swiss died, plunged France into new grief and fear just eight months after gunmen killed 130 people in Paris. Assaults in January 2015 on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket were also claimed by Islamic State, which controls swathes of Iraq and Syria but is now under military pressure from forces opposed to it.
A state of emergency in place since the Paris killings last November is to be extended for another three months.
“The world as a whole has become more uncertain. Problems are more frequently solved with violence and instability is increasing,” Burkhalter said, when asked why France was so often the target of terrorist attacks.
“A lot has also to do with globalisation. This has many positive effects, but it also brings changes and uncertainty. The key is greater prospects – above all more education and jobs – for people, for young people, in fragile regions.”
SonntagsBlick pointed out that a similar terrorist attack could happen in Switzerland. How could the authorities prevent that?
“In Switzerland the taskforce Tetra is responsible for coordination – it gathers all the national and cantonal security parties at one table,” he said.
“But fighting terrorism also means fighting the causes of violence. Someone who doesn’t think he or she has a future will succumb more quickly to the appeal of extremism. We must therefore do our part in giving people prospects.”
To that end, Burkhalter said the government was promoting integration within Switzerland, avoiding the ghettoisation of Swiss society and supporting apprenticeship programmes in many countries.
Early on Sunday morning in Turkey, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets in half a dozen cities, chanting, dancing and waving flags, to defend democracy and support the country’s long-time leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Rather than toppling Turkey’s strongman president, the attempted coup that left some 265 dead and 1,440 wounded appears to have bolstered Erdogan’s popularity and grip on power.
“If the attempted coup is actually over, it’s good news, because events like that bring violence and instability and their consequences are always unpredictable,” Burkhalter said. “Violence is never an appropriate way to change situations.”
SonntagsBlick said Burkhalter had repeatedly encouraged a closer relationship between Switzerland and Turkey. It wanted to know how this was possible with a country whose army attempted coups.
“Turkey is an important partner for Switzerland not only from an immigration point of view. It’s also an important country regarding policies for security and peace. What’s more, its 80 million inhabitants play a significant role economically. That’s why it’s important that we hold regular talks.”
Switzerland is the 14th-largest international investor in Turkey, according to the foreign ministry.
Since Erdogan became president in 2003, some Turks have become increasingly concerned about his alleged efforts to impose Islam on Turkish life and crackdowns on perceived opponents that have raised worries about human rights backsliding and infringements on free expression. How democratic does Burkhalter rate Turkey?
“It has a democratically elected government,” he answered. “At the same time the Swiss cabinet notes with concern that the security and human rights situation in Turkey is getting increasingly worse.”
He said he was also concerned by the consequences of the attempted coup on refugees in Turkey.
“I’m worried about the general stability in the region, which could also have negative effects on refugees. Turkey plays a very important role in the whole region, taking in more than three million refugees and so far coping with this challenge remarkably well,” he said.
“Turkey, by dint of its geographical location, is directly confronted by many problems which also affect Europe, for example migration, terrorism and violent extremism. These issues can only be addressed by the international community together – with Turkey. Instability in Turkey would be bad for people there and for all of Europe.”