Swiss foreign minister wants to boost country’s overseas image

Swiss Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss has called for the setting up of a Swiss-American Institute too boost Switzerland’s image in the United States.

This content was published on July 21, 1999 - 17:09

Swiss Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss has called for the setting up of a Swiss-American Institute too boost Switzerland’s image in the United States.

The proposal will be on the agenda when the Swiss cabinet reconvenes after its summer recess next month.

The idea of setting up such an institute in Washington goes back to 1996, when relations between Switzerland and the United States grew tense because of the controversy over Switzerland's role in World War II.

Verbal attacks by the World Jewish Congress and what the Swiss government called “untenable allegations” about Switzerland’s business dealings with Nazi Germany – including the issue of dormant bank accounts of Holocaust victims -- brought diplomatic relations to a low point.

However, the $1.25 billion Holocaust agreement reached between Swiss banks and Jewish groups did much to smooth transatlantic relations.

On an official level, the chill ended when U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss held talks at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January.

But the Swiss foreign ministry feels that there is still a need to enhance Switzerland's presence in the U.S. and an institute as a place of goodwill would serve this purpose.

So far, Swiss industry has not been willing to come up with any money to sponsor the proposed institute. Political analysts point out that Swiss trade with the U.S. has grown uninterruptedly in the past few years, even at the height of the Holocaust controversy.

The biggest stumbling block for the proposed institute, however, is to find any kind of unanimity about what kind of image Switzerland should project.

Although there is a Coordinating Commission for the Presence of Switzerland Abroad, the body has always had extreme difficulty in finding a common denominator among the various cultural, linguistic and political groupings that make up Switzerland.

Foreign ministry plans to revamp the commission and increase its budget will not change this basic problem.


Written by SRI staff.

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