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Swiss believe cooperation is wise investment

Youngsters in Albania train to be hairdressers as part of a Swiss-financed cooperation programme

(Keystone)

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey says that cooperation funding for youth programmes in the Balkans is an investment in the future for Switzerland.

She warned that a lack of job prospects in the region could force many youngsters to emigrate, generating a series of problems for countries in western Europe.

Speaking in Lausanne on Friday, she seized the opportunity to once again exhort citizens to vote in favour of a subsidy for the ten new European Union member countries, claiming that its effects would extend beyond these states.

Calmy-Rey said the SFr1 billion ($800 million) package would contribute to the continent's stability and would also benefit others.

"Rejecting [the funding] would be imprudent – it would jeopardize not only the future of Swiss cooperation with eastern Europe, but also the successful bilateral relations between Switzerland and the European Union," warned the foreign minister.

In her speech at the annual conference on Swiss cooperation in eastern Europe, she added that the proposed funding would also help states in the Balkans and the former Soviet Union.

The meeting - organised by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) - focused in particular on the needs of youngsters in the Balkans.

"Fifty-four per cent of the world's population is younger than 24 and youth is not adequately taken into account for development policy decisions," Walter Fust, the SDC director told swissinfo. "And investment in youth is an investment in the future."

Lack of prospects

Youngsters in the Balkans are usually well educated, but suffer from high unemployment. According to the foreign minister, the lack of prospects encourages them to emigrate west, draining their homelands of productive elements.

Since 1995, Switzerland has invested SFr1.5 billion in the western area of the Balkans. It has lent its support to programmes aimed at helping young people enter the job market and tried to reinforce local economies by easing access to microcredits.

Calmy-Rey said that Swiss investments served both the region's and Swiss interests. The effects of any crisis in the Balkans were felt in Switzerland, as were those of appeasement she added.

The foreign minister warned that a no vote to the funding proposal at the end of the month would not only threaten Swiss cooperation efforts in eastern Europe, but also damage bilateral ties with the region.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Since 1990, SDC and Seco have implemented over 1,000 projects in 23 eastern European countries.

More than 20 million people have, for example, better access to basic health services.

Around three million people are supplied with clean drinking water as a result of Swiss technical and financial assistance.

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An example of cooperation

Bosnia and Herzegovina is one Balkan country where the Swiss have been particularly involved in recent years.

Since the war ended there in autumn 1995, around 15,000 Bosnians have returned home after temporary asylum in Switzerland.

Their reintegration was eased by structural assistance from Switzerland: funds were used to rebuild schools and hospitals, repair water mains and electricity lines, and create new jobs.

To date, the Swiss government has invested SFr486 million in material and institutional reconstruction.

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