The Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, has called for reform of the United Nations and explained how Switzerland should conduct its relationship with the European Union.
Speaking at a meeting of the country’s ambassadors in Bern, she also outlined the limitations of Swiss foreign policy.
Opening the annual gathering of Switzerland’s top diplomats, Calmy-Rey said she regretted cuts to the country’s development aid budget, which would freeze spending at 2004 levels for the next four years.
She also repeated the government's criticism of the Iraq war, and said it demonstrated that reform of the UN was needed.
On relations with the EU, Calmy-Rey said Switzerland needed to carefully manage the relationship to preserve its neutrality and independence, while minimising the disadvantages of not being a member.
Calmy-Rey said overseas development aid would remain at 2004 levels for the next four years because of government spending cuts.
This meant Switzerland would likely miss its target of contributing 0.4 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to development aid by 2010.
The cuts are part of a wider savings package aimed at bringing the federal finances into balance. The overseas development aid budget has already been cut by SFr57 million this year, and will be trimmed further by SFr81 million in 2007 and SFr66 million in 2008.
Calmy-Rey also warned the ambassadors that tight financing meant that some of the country’s offices abroad might have to be closed.
The slogan of this year’s conference, which runs for three days, is “The world in 2015”.
Calmy-Rey said Bern’s spending cuts would limit what Switzerland could do to help reach the United Nations Millennium goal of halving poverty by 2015. She described that target as “simply unreachable”.
She hinted that Switzerland’s ability to influence foreign affairs was limited. “We react to events which are beyond our control,” she told the 100 ambassadors present.
Regarding Switzerland’s relations with the EU – of which Switzerland is not a member - Calmy-Rey told her ambassadors that Swiss policy was to preserve the country’s independence in its dealings with the Union.
But at the same time, she said, the country’s representatives should do all they can to minimise the disadvantages of not being part of the EU, and gain as much access as possible to the common market.
Calmy-Rey also reminded the ambassadors of Switzerland’s opposition to the war in Iraq, and its implications for international security.
She said that conflict, which the United States-led coalition pursued in the face of United Nations opposition, “caused a crisis of collective security… and as one can see, the result is anarchy”.
She added that reform of the UN was necessary and that the objective must be to make it an instrument that is both “respected and effective”.
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Calmy-Rey identified reform of the UN and careful management of relations with Europe as foreign policy priorities.
She said cuts in the overseas development aid budget would freeze spending at 2004 levels for the next four years.
Switzerland will therefore likely miss its target of contributing 0.4 per cent of GDP to development aid by 2010.