A groundbreaking new Swiss consulate has opened in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Swiss House is being billed not only as the first "digital" consulate, but also the first devoted solely to science, research and business.
The newly renovated building near Harvard Square was inaugurated by the Governor of Massachusetts, Paul Cellucci at an official opening ceremony attended by over 100 dignitaries from Switzerland and the Greater Boston area.
The Swiss House for Advanced Research and Education, or Share, is a unique public-private partnership. The building was purchased and renovated by the private bank, Lombard Odier, at a cost of over SFr2 million ($1.3 million).
"I see the Swiss House as a type of academic embassy that belongs to everybody," said Charles Kleiber, Swiss State Secretary for Science and Technology. "It highlights Swiss science, technology and culture in one of the world's most vibrant centres of research and intellectual rigour."
Harvard University is just five minutes' walk away from the Swiss House, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is also nearby.
"The location is perfect because the biggest universities in the state are our neighbours," said Xavier Comtesse, the new Swiss consul in Cambridge, who points out that there are 126 institutes of higher education, attended by over 300,000 students, in the surrounding area.
"We want to focus on the young generation - students, researchers or young businesses," Comtesse told swissinfo.
There are long-established links between Switzerland and Massachusetts. Around 1,600 Swiss people live in the Boston area, and roughly 400 of those are studying at local universities.
"When you are in the early stages of something, like start-up companies and research, sharing things is very important," said Comtesse. "Competition will come, but now is a time for sharing knowledge. We have good scientists and they have good scientists - it's a win-win situation."
Kleiber said the new consulate represented a shift in emphasis in Swiss diplomacy: "Diplomacy has to develop new instruments of cooperation. It now has less to do with national interests and more about an exchange of ideas."
He said science, technology and research were the driving forces of society. One tangible result of cooperation between Switzerland and New England is a memorandum of understanding between Basel and the state of Massachusetts.
The head of canton Basel's government, Ralph Lewin, told journalists that the two regions had mutual interests and complementary strengths. Both, he said, were centres of innovation, which would become gateways to each other's catchment areas.
It is exactly that kind of cooperation that the Swiss House is trying to foster. "I would not be surprised if other countries were doing something similar in five years' time," said Comtesse.
by Roy Probert