Calmy-Rey sails into troubled waters

Micheline Calmy-Rey's style is not to everyone's taste Keystone

Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss foreign minister, is facing mounting criticism from political opponents over her forthright approach.

This content was published on February 5, 2003 - 08:27

Just hours after she announced a pre-war conference on Iraq, her detractors say she is banging her own drum too loudly.

The sharpest criticism came from the rightwing Swiss People's Party, which said she had lost her way and was more interested in publicity than in concrete results.

The People's Party accused her of acting according to a very personal interpretation of the pillars of Swiss democracy.

It called on the Swiss government to restrain Calmy-Rey before she did any more damage to the country's external relations.

The president of the centre-right Christian Democratic Party, Philippe Stähelin, said if the proposed conference did not go ahead, it would do Switzerland's reputation no good.

Stähelin also felt that publicising the conference without finalising the details could backfire, as countries might feel pressurised to participate.

The president of the Radical Party was less critical.

Christiane Langenberger said her party supported a more aggressive face for Swiss diplomacy and one which was more transparent to the public.

Support also came from Calmy-Rey's own party, the Social Democrats, which said the minister had acted in a manner appropriate to her position.

They also praised her for recognising that the Iraq crisis was no ordinary situation, requiring new methods of conflict management.

Changing times

Clive Church, professor of politics at the British University of Kent, told swissinfo that it was only natural that Calmy-Rey was emphasising humanitarian issues.

"Humanitarian concerns [are] very much a part of Swiss history and [are] things with which many Swiss identify," said Church.

He suggested that the way the world viewed Switzerland had changed in the recent past.

"One of the Switzerland's problems has been that it has lost the public reputation of a being the state that handles this sort of initiative," he said, referring to the humanitarian conference Calmy-Rey has proposed.

"If you thrust a microphone under the noses of people and ask them 'which state is the most active in promoting peace?', the answer will be 'Norway'."

However, he stressed that there was less need these days for a country to play international mediator because of an increase in the number of international organisations that could do the same.

Ruffling feathers

Calmy-Rey has only been in her post since the beginning of the year and has already managed to ruffle many feathers with her upfront approach.

She caused a stir in January when she publicly stated that she would only attend the World Economic Forum summit in Davos, if she could meet the United States' secretary of state, Colin Powell.

During the meeting, which took place, she offered to host talks between Iraq and the US to avert war.

The request is rumoured to have been politely turned down by the US.

swissinfo, Faryal Mirza and Jacob Greber

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