Parliament puts brakes on UN ambitions


Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey's ambitious plan to see Switzerland take a seat at the United Nations Security Council by 2020 has suffered a setback.

This content was published on October 5, 2007 - 18:02

Members of the House of Representatives warned that following this path would deal a fatal blow to the country's neutrality and that it was too soon to even contemplate such a move.

The criticism was levelled against Calmy-Rey's plan in Bern on Friday, during the final day of the last parliamentary session before the elections later this month.

The Social Democrat foreign minister was presenting the annual report on Switzerland's relationship with the UN.

While the rightwing Swiss People's Party was expected to shoot down the idea, the centre-right Radicals, Christian Democrats and Liberals also expressed their concerns about the proposal.

For the People's Party, joining the council and the group that decides if and when to go to war would mean the end of Swiss neutrality.

The party's Hans Fehr, who is also the head of the Campaign for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland, said that neutrality was already under attack and that Switzerland's activism abroad was making it harder to maintain its position.

The People's Party, traditionally opposed to UN membership, continued to push its line that the organisation was a failure.

"It prefers to be a passive observer as it has done in Myanmar, or to get involved in our election campaign and criticise our sheep poster," said Walter Wobmann.

Cross-party doubts

The lack of support from the centre-right was also patent.

While highlighting that Switzerland had taken on a welcome leadership role in some cases, such as at the UN human Rights Council, Christian Democrat Kathy Riklin said her party failed to understand why Calmy-Rey had already announced her plans for the security body.

She added that it was counterproductive to already create opposition to the idea when the goal was to obtain a seat only in 2020, and called on the foreign minister to show some restraint.

The Radicals and Liberals said they weren't entirely comfortable with the idea either.

While pointing out that Switzerland's generous contributions to the UN meant that it should be fully informed by the Security Council, Liberal Jacques Simon-Eggly said that the Swiss would be better off establishing a close relationship with one of the permanent members.

The centre-left Social Democrats remained quiet on the issue, although they have already publicly declared their support for Calmy-Rey's project.

The foreign minister defended her plan, saying that Switzerland could not defend peace by staying hidden or sitting on the benches of the House. She added that the country had a role to play at the council.

She said that it would not harm neutrality since the body reaches decisions about peacekeeping operations and not acts of war. Calmy-Rey also pointed out that Switzerland already applies the council's resolutions, giving it all the more the reason to make its voice heard.

swissinfo with agencies

Switzerland and the UN

The debate over joining the UN began to gain some momentum in Switzerland towards the end of the 1960s. The government presented its first UN report in 1969, which concluded that it was too early to join.

It was not until 1977 that the government adopted membership as a goal. But the public and the cantons were not ready to follow suit: in March 1986 they overwhelmingly rejected the idea at the ballot box.

It was not until the mid-1990s that politicians tried again. In 1998 the government presented its fourth UN report, declaring membership as a "strategic goal". Switzerland became the 190th member of the UN four years later.

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Policy goals

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey recently said joining the UN five years ago had boosted Switzerland's credibility and standing in the eyes of the world.

The Swiss are the 14th biggest contributors to the world body, stumping up SFr126 million ($107 million) this year.

Calmy-Rey said Switzerland would look to strengthen its position at the heart of the UN in the coming years, with a seat on the Security Council a possible goal by 2020.

The foreign minister has also advocated a stronger commitment to UN peacekeeping missions.

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