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100 years of multilateralism Swiss reaffirm their commitment to International Geneva

Three Swiss diplomats in Geneva

Geneva President Antonio Hodgers (l), Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis (c) and Geneva Mayor Sami Kanaan (r) presented their joint declaration on Monday, which reaffirmed their commitment to International Geneva

(Keystone/Salvatore Di Nolfi)

The Swiss authorities have signed a joint declaration reaffirming their commitment to so-called “International Geneva” and the multilateral system, which is celebrating its centenary in the Swiss city. 

On Monday, Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis, the president of canton Geneva, Antonio Hodgers, and the mayor of Geneva, Sami Kanaan, signed a joint declaration underlining their commitment to “Switzerland’s role as host state for International Geneva”. It was concluded in the presence of the new United Nations Director General Tatiana Valovaya.

Hodgers said the multilateral system and its rules-based order may be sometimes called into question and be facing huge pressures as some countries prefer to go it alone.

“But this is about renewing our passion for International Geneva and reinforcing our capacities at each level – federal, cantonal and communal – to strengthen the multilateral system,” Hodgers told reporters.

The document outlines a wish to strengthen coordination between the different Swiss authorities to become a single unique host partner for international actors in Geneva. They also underlined their aim for Geneva to reinforce its role as a centre for global governance and expertise on issues like digitization, climate change and migration. Communication of the work carried out by the numerous international organisations present must also be improved, it said. 

The ceremony in Geneva was organised to coincide with the celebration of 100 years of multilateralism in Genevaexternal link. 1919 marked the creation of the League of Nations, which a year later moved its secretariat to the Swiss city together with that of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

+ From the League to the UN: ending Swiss isolationism

One hundred years on, Geneva is home to UN’s European headquarters, 37 international organisations, such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), several hundred NGOs and 170 diplomatic missions. In all, there are over 30,000 international civil servants and diplomats. And in 2017, a record 3,364 international conferences and meetings pulled in over 220,000 participants.   

“Geneva has become the biggest multilateral centre in the world and that’s something Switzerland is proud of,” said Cassis. “But the world has become much more competitive even in diplomacy international. More countries want to play a similar role.”

Switzerland’s new host state strategy, covering the 2020-2023 periodexternal link and budgeted at CHF112 million ($112 million), got its final green light on Tuesday when the Senate voted through the financial package.

The Swiss government, which adopted the message in spring, is convinced by the numerous benefits of this investment. International Geneva helps Switzerland meet its foreign policy objectives, promotes Swiss values, offers access to officials and decision-makers and visibility, and provides interesting financial returns, it says.

Last year, the amount of money spent or invested by Geneva-based international organisations and NGOs hit a record CHF6.2 billion, up 3.6% compared to 2016. Over half of this amount – including salaries and insurance and pension payments – was spent or invested in Switzerland. 

City of peace on tour  Many Swiss ‘know little’ about International Geneva 

Switzerland invests millions in its strategy towards “International Geneva”, yet many people in the German-speaking region are unfamiliar with it.

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