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Former Swiss president and EU champion Flavio Cotti dies

Flavio Cotti was a strong supporter of the United Nations. Pictured here with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Keystone / Lukas Lehmann

Former Swiss president Flavio Cotti, who championed Switzerland’s accession to the United Nations and the European Union, died of complications related to Covid at the age of 81.

This content was published on December 17, 2020 - 10:07
Keystone-SDA/jdp, urs

Cotti was also instrumental in brokering a Swiss bank settlement for Jewish victims of the Holocaust and determining Switzerland’s relationship with the EU in the 1990s. He chaired the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 1996.

"Flavio Cotti will be remembered as a champion of consensus building," the government said in a statement on Thursday. "Rooted in the Catholic culture and marked by a strong sense of Christian humanism [...] he was open to change." 

“It is with great sadness that I learned of the death of Flavio Cotti. His political spirit continues to breathe life into the foreign ministry,” said the current Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis, also from the Italian-speaking Ticino region, on Twitter.

Cotti died on Wednesday afternoon in a hospital in Locarno "after complications due to coronavirus", according to local media.

A lawyer by training, Cotti was a member of the Christian Democratic Party of Ticino before rising through the ranks and spending 12 years in the Swiss government from 1987 to 1999 where he first served as interior minister and later changed to the foreign ministry.

Closer to international community

He held the Swiss rotating presidency twice, in 1991 and 1998. He is most remembered for his time as foreign minister, where he was instrumental in bringing Switzerland closer to international agencies. He advocated for Switzerland’s accession to the UN and defended Geneva as the seat of international bodies such as the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Switzerland eventually became the 190th member of the UN in 2002.

Before resigning, he successfully concluded bilateral negotiations with the EU after Swiss voters rejected a plan for the country to become a member of the European Economic Area in 1992. A staunch supporter of Europe, he defended Switzerland's full participation in the EU.

Cotti was also at the head of the foreign ministry during tense negotiations on unclaimed funds deposited in Swiss banks by Holocaust victims. In 1997, Cotti announced the decision to share control of a Holocaust memorial fund with leading Jewish groups that had been set up after criticism of Switzerland’s financial dealings with Nazi Germany.

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