Conference ends with ringing endorsement of federalism

Delegates heard the virtues of the federal system in St Gallen Keystone

The federalism conference in St Gallen has come to a close with organisers declaring themselves satisfied with the result.

This content was published on August 30, 2002 - 16:50

The delegates were largely preaching to the converted so the four-day meeting ended with an affirmation of the virtues of the federal system.

Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes and Swiss Justice Minister Ruth Metzler were among the 500 guests who endorsed the virtues of the system.

In her address at the end of the conference, Ruth Metzler said federalism was the political system of the future because history showed that many centralised states had ceased to exist, while most new states were choosing the federalist model.

Speeches by prominent politicians did not bring many new insights into federalism, according to participants, but discussions within the conferences workshops reached very "high levels".

Media silence

The event was virtually ignored by the media, despite the presence of some heavyweight politicians, academics and technocrats from some 50 countries. Among the topics discussed were foreign policy, ethnic conflict, and fiscal issues.

The lack of media interest was partly put down to competition from the Johannesburg Earth summit, as well as the fact that the event was not "newsy" in that no concrete measures came out of the conference.

Join the club

Chrétien said federalism had allowed Canada to become one of the richest countries in the world, while the vice president of the European Union's Constitutional Convention, Guiliano Amato, pointed to the Swiss federal system as a possible model for a future European state.

"We have gained a lot from this conference. It was really a success," said Thomas Fleiner, of the Federalism Institute in Freiburg and co-organiser of the conference, told swissinfo.

The Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, invited delegates to join him in his country for the next federalism conference in 2004.

He said that Switzerland had "set the standard" for future conferences.


Key facts

Organisers pronounced the event a success.
500 delegates from more than 60 countries attended the conference.
The event was a joint project between the Swiss federal government and the cantonal governments.
Topics under discussion included foreign relations, decentralisation, conflict management and tax issues.

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