geneva - capital of the globalised world

Most international organisations have clustered in just one Geneva suburb Keystone

Geneva is home to a multitude of different governmental and private organisations, creating a constant flurry of diplomatic activity.

This content was published on July 11, 2006 - 16:37

Switzerland and its diplomatic service have benefited considerably from Geneva's international stature, which has grown since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Geneva has long been host to the European headquarters of the United Nations and many other specialised UN agencies, but contrary to what many believe, it is not the Swiss capital.

"Everyone thinks of Geneva when you talk about Switzerland," says former Swiss diplomat Edouard Brunner. His comment also illustrates the importance of Geneva for Switzerland's image worldwide.

According to Presence Switzerland, the government department responsible for promoting Switzerland's image abroad, Geneva is a vital element in the country's international marketing strategy. "We want to develop an image of a modern, forward-looking country,

rather than relying on stereotypes such as mountains and chocolate. Geneva is a perfect example for us," says Sabina Giannoussios, head of communications at Presence Switzerland.

To convince people, you only need to remind them that the World Wide Web was first developed at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva by Tim Berners-Lee at the start of the 1990s.

New role

During this period, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union, Geneva started to take on a new role as a testing ground for globalisation issues.

The headquarters of the World Economic Forum (WEF) is based in Geneva. Every year the WEF organises a meeting of global leaders – business figures, politicians and intellectuals – in Davos.

The capital of French-speaking Switzerland is also the seat of the guardian of the free market – the World Trade Organization (WTO) – and its social counterpart, the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Another important Geneva-based organisation is the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which promotes the protection and use of intellectual property such as trademarks, a crucial issue for companies


And of course the city of Calvin is one of the leading financial markets for buying and selling raw materials such as oil.

The city and its surrounding region also play host to other organisations with global interests, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Diplomats and NGOs

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which have humanitarian mandates, work alongside the new UN Human

Rights Council. It is not surprising, therefore, that Geneva attracts the cream of the diplomatic and NGO worlds.

The city is also a laboratory for world governance matters. It is here that a new partnership is being forged between states, the private sector and civil society.

"A number of private and public organisations are working closely with international organisations, looking at new forms of collaboration to tackle specific problems," explained Jean Freymond, director of the Centre for Applied Studies in International Negotiations (CASIN).

"In this way, Geneva has become a international focal point for health

issues," said Freymond.

"Switzerland needs to encourage these new collaborations between the private sector, NGOs, universities and the state.

"It should create a suitable working environment for the new bodies that emerge from these partnerships."

Brunner is certain that Geneva's international status presents endless advantages for Switzerland and its government.

"Our ministers can meet their international counterparts in Geneva and establish contact with important world figures, and our diplomats are able to gain valuable experience in multilateral

negotiation," said Brunner.

swissinfo, Frédéric Burnand in Geneva

In brief

After New York, Geneva is the second major headquarters for UN organisations and agencies. The city is known as the most active world stage for multilateral diplomacy, with 155 foreign states represented.

Out of the 30 international organisations based in Switzerland, 22 have their headquarters in Geneva.

Seven of these belong to the UN system. The other main organisations are the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Conference on Disarmament, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

More than 170 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have their seat in Geneva. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the European Broadcasting Union and the World Council of Churches also have their headquarters in Geneva.

In total, the city is home to 35,000 diplomats and international civil servants and 2,400 NGO staff members.

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