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Politicians ponder Swiss role at the UN

Micheline Calmy-Rey has ruled out a Swiss bid for the presidency of the UN General Assembly Keystone

Switzerland has contributed positively to the United Nations, Swiss politicians believe, but they are unsure what role the country will play in future.

This content was published on September 16, 2008 - 15:31

Parliament on Tuesday heard politicians from left and right express dissatisfaction with the multilateral body for its inflexibility and intransigence. There were calls for more principled engagement and democratic reforms.

The discussion came as the House of Representatives considered a government report on relations with the international organisation.

"Our country should commit more," said Andreas Gross, the speaker of the House's foreign affairs committee.

He added that the UN's powerful Security Council should be a body the world could identify with and that the rights – veto rights in particular – of Council members should be reviewed.

The UN has become a huge apparatus that has not always produced the expected results, according to Laurent Favre of the centre-right Radical Party.

The centre left meanwhile highlighted what it said were urgent reforms the Security Council needed to make – including veto rights and the extension of the 15-member body – to tackle the challenges of climate change.

Bid

Gross has called on Switzerland to bid for the rotating presidency of the UN General Assembly, one of the body's five principal organs. He said it would be a stepping-stone toward a seat on the Security Council.

"Switzerland would be very welcome as chair, because it enjoys a good reputation. It has no hidden agenda to pursue power politics," he said during the committee debate. The Senate is due to discuss the government's annual UN report on Wednesday.

Gross added that the post would be an opportunity to persuade the public within Switzerland that involvement in the UN was compatible with Switzerland's neutral status.

Geneva has been home to the UN's second-largest headquarters since the organisation's inception but Switzerland only joined the body as a full member in 2002 following a nationwide vote.

Ruled out

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has ruled out a Swiss candidature for the General Assembly presidency.

"Switzerland always has to look for a majority when it comes to proposals or candidatures," she said and disclosed that the country had considered the presidency as a halfway point between where it stands now and holding one of the rotating seats on the Security Council.

But since Belgium had put its name forward for the assembly, a Swiss candidature at the same time had little chance of being successful in 2010.

"We had to challenge Belgium and the European Union, which normally supports its member states unanimously," Calmy-Rey said. "We could stage a fight for the chair. But that is not reasonable and we have only a very small chance of winning," she added.

Calmy-Rey said Switzerland had to ensure its representations within intergovernmental bodies and ensure that Swiss held posts in UN secretariats.

The foreign minister said Switzerland was contributing to the reform process, notably in human rights, and that it would focus on fighting terrorism and armed conflict during the UN's forthcoming session in New York beginning next week.

Calmy-Rey also highlighted Switzerland's financial contribution: Bern will contribute 1.216 per cent of the UN's core budget of $7.72 billion (SFr8.64 billion) between 2007 and 2009, according to the foreign ministry.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Switzerland joined the UN as a full member in 2002.

It contributes about $94 million (SFr105 million) to the UN's core budget, according to the foreign ministry.

That amount does not include payments to specialist organisations like Unesco and the WHO, and to programmes including UNCHR and Unicef.

Prior to joining the UN, Switzerland fully participated in the activities of the specialised agencies and organisations for decades.

The European UN headquarters is based in Geneva.

There are at least three Swiss nationals who hold a senior UN mandate, including Helen Keller, in the UN Human Rights Committee.

Walter Kälin is an expert on the human rights of internally displaced persons and Jean Ziegler acts as advisor to the UN Humans Rights Council.

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